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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.

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

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.

Two Majestic Spring Whites

There was a bit of a false start a few weeks back, but upon arriving back in London yesterday after a lovely Easter weekend in the North East it felt like spring had sincerely come. To celebrate, I thought I would recommend a couple superb white wines that I recently tasted from Majestic.

Majestic Wine despite increasing online competition continues to do an excellent job providing good wines at fair prices. We got a a blindingly good Cremant de Loire for a our wedding

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 16.16.24The first was from excellent Kiwi producer Marisco Vineyards. I was introduced to this Malborough superstar at a Majestic tasting a few years back and liked their Kings Thorn Pinot Gris so much I matched it with some fish and chips in a video tasting. Many people may know them for producing the good value The Ned range, especially the Sauvignon Blanc.

But this time round it was one of their chardonnay’s, specifically The Kings Legacy 2011 that had me impressed. This £14.99 wine comes from grapes at two sites (older vineyards from the Wairau and younger from Brancott) and is aged on the lees (yeast) for ten months in French oak with the help of mostly wild yeasts.

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 16.09.41What comes out is top class and has a purity that I would expect of a Grand Cru Chablis. Crisp green apple, richer hints of stone fruit and some richer nuttiness. But super clean, balanced and defined. Mrs. DnE and I had it with a pork loin with an apple celery brandy and mustard sauce to mark our six month anniversary. The combination was superb and if any wants the recipe for the pork post a comment and I will try to recall what I did to make it so tasty.

The second wine was nothing short of a revelation and it was a Muscadet.

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 16.10.09Now I know what you are thinking but this ain’t no ho-hum wallflower of the Loire. Partially aged in oak and given some time to mature Muscadet Le Pallet 2009 blew my flipping doors off. Produced by Les Dix du Pallet, which ironically is a co-op of 10 growers based in Le Pallet, a ‘cru’ village in the southeast between those famous rivers Sevre and Maine.

The nose gave off whiffs of french patisserie; baked and biscuity. But then there was tropical pineapple, ripe white melon, fragrant buttercup, toasted almond and waxy lemon. 

My first sip seemed to set in motion some sort of sensory Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I was zapped by laser guided mango, pummeled by popping passionfruit, my breath frosted by mineral crispness, stung by slivers of cedar, needled by hints of pine and then finally warmed with a sensual spicy lick of white pepper. The finale was a bit of a nod to Diana Rigg, but the wine was sublime while that installment of 007 was merely sub. 

I was spent. What a tremendous wine and on at for an amazing £9.99 right now. 

If you won’t take my word on these two bottles being real beauties then take perhaps Decanter might sway you. Both won gold and the regional trophy in 2014 at their prestigious yearly wine awards.

Kings Legacy 2011

Le Pallet 2009

Two Stouts & Irish Stew

I am a lover of porters and stouts especially when there’s a chill in the air. There’s something as comforting as a roaring fire and supping a beer the colour of coal.

With St Paddy’s day coming up, I thought I would pair a couple opposing beers on the stout spectrum with an Irish stew and soda bread. First from the micro world I Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 12.02.02uncapped an Oyster Stout from Bristol based Arbor who are making some very good beers these days. My first introduction being an excellent one off De Rokerij rauchbier or smoked beer.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 12.05.43Coming in at a very reasonable 4.6% their “seafood seasoned” stout gave off lovely snoot blasts of salty liquorice, sweet raisin bread and coal. On the palate, there were seams of rich iron and the pillowy, creamy texture was punched through with sea salt, bitter coffee grinds and a smooth as pearl finish. Yum!

My macro had to be a Guinness Foreign Extra which I embarrassingly had never tried before. Substantially more boozing at 7.5%, the nose sang a sticky treacle, sweet malt loaf, sweaty prune ballad. Pressing it to my lips I received a caress of sour ripe fig, unfermented grape must and a fine dry dark chocolate finish. Quite good, but perhaps not altogether to my taste. Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 12.05.28

The Arbour was certainly the better match for the stew with the GFE being more of a pudding beer in my humble opinion. But whatever style takes your fancy on St Patrick’s Day, when you raise your glass make sure it’s brimming with the black stuff.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 12.03.45

Barre Pilsner and Weizen

Now when I say Lübbecke what comes to mind?

Perhaps a small child trying to say Rebecca for the first time?  An extremely drunken American sportscaster referring to a ferocious sack made by SF 49ers star linebacker NaVorro Bowman?

Though vaguely humourous both would be incorrect.

Now I imagine a fair few of you sharper tacks, those of you familiar with European languages would deduce that it might be a place or an attraction; owing to its giveaway pünctuation.

You of course would be right. Lübbecke is a village in northern Germany (population just shy of 26,000) nestled in the Wiehe Mountains, about an hour and a half drive west of Hanover. A small modern town centre surrounded by hills on which sit some stunningly grand squat sturdy houses. While you visit this little town that have no real attractions, you can play some free slots and drink this amazing beer. It’s not exactly mobbed with tourists, I however found myself there on a work trip last October.

For you WW2 buffs, the area was quite important for the occupying British forces after 1945. It served as an administrative hub for the British Occupation Zone authorities who worked out of the municipal buildings and were housed in the local homes.

We actually stayed and worked out of what was an old Hitler Youth training camp. A scary prospect, but long gone were any vestiges of its darker past. Run by British Army Chaplains since the early ’80’s Chruch House had a very welcoming and serene feel. Not surprising as it serves as a home of respite and sensitivity training facility for UK service personnel.

Much to my delight, the mess bar was well stocked with the local beer. Brewed by the privately owned Barre Brewery, which was a stone’s throw from where I was stood. It was a good sign. Very. Fresh. Beer. And a bargain @ €1 for a bottle.IMG_4922

With a not quite properly translated claim to fame like “city of beer fountain” being attributed to the area, the bar (sorry I couldn’t help myself) was set quite high. I ordered a bottle of “Pilsener” from the less than effusive barman and poured into my mini stein. I loved everything about that glass. Sandblasted smooth, perfectly weighted and fitting so well in my hand that it could have been made for me. Damn I miss it.

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 16.55.54Now in my opinion there is something universal about great Pilsner; the first one does a Nick Cage. It’s gone in 60 seconds. Barre Pils was most certainly in that class.  

Pale yellow and a lively soapy head. The nose was classic Pils and popped with crispness, golden grain and a touch of resinous hop. Surgically precise, clean and utterly delicious.

I brought a bottle home and had it with a daunting cabbage, apple and beetroot soup. Cut through it like a razor. Ironic as that’s what that soup did to my insides. Yikes. Open a window would you dear.

I also brought home a bottle of their Weizen (wheat). Looking at it in the glass reminded me of swimming in a muddy river as a kid, an earthy brown haze cut through with shafts of dappled sunlight.

A balanced 5.4% abv with a dense milk shake foam head it pulsed with aromas of clove oil, wet banana skin and dried coriander seed. What I got on the nose replayed on my palate but as a luxurious velvet wheat whirlpool. Stuff is dangerously drinkable. I think it lasted about 8 minutes. Very tasty. Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 16.55.44

In addition to the Pils and Weizen, Barre brew a Dark, Alcohol-Free, Festbier, Maibock and an Alt. So if you ever happen to find yourself in the vicinity of Lübbecke for whatever reason, then Barre is a must try.

Leithaberg Wines Austria at its best

Leithaberg meant absolutely nothing to me a few months ago. No idea what/where/who it was. Never heard of it.

That was until an email invitation dropped into my inbox courtesy of Dillon Morall PR. Thanks Victoria and Allison!

Here’s what I learned…

Leithaberg is one of Austria’s eight DAC’s (Districtus Austriae Controllatus) basically the equivalent to France’s AOC status.  It’s located in the east of the country getting its name from the “Leithagebirge” or the Laitha mountains that separate Burgenland and Lower Austria.  The soils are considered quite unique (mix of gneiss, mica-slate, shell/limestone, marl and crystalline), and the winemakers feel that it gives their wines that certain je ne sais what.

Austria is famed for their native Grüner Veltliner; a white grape that in the right hands can produce wines of complexity, purity and power that rival the very best Chardonnays and Rieslings. They age well to boot.

To bear the name Leithaberg on the label, the whites (most are bottled as single varietals) must be made from the aforementioned Grüner, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay or Neuberger. Red can only be made from Blaufränkish and must be aged in oak barrels.

Despite the renown of “GV” only one of the Weingut’s (Wine Estate) had one to show, with the rest preferring Chardonnay or Pinot Blanc. Vineyards are quite diverse with other varietals such as: Welschriesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Zweigelt (a spicy red of Austrian extraction), St Laurent, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah.

I recognised the wacky labels of one producer from a visit to Linz last year, but the rest were brand new to me.

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 11.46.33Probably my favorite wines were from Wagentristl, run by the family of the same name since 1888, in the minute village of Grosshöflein. Fifth-generation winemaker Rudi Wagentristl runs every aspect of their ecological 12ha vineyard pretty much by himself. No small feat.

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 11.49.26They had six wines on show all which showed tremendous balance, purity, character and shone with happiness.

Their Leithaberg Chardonnay ’13 had all the hallmarks of good southern white Burgundy; rounded tropical fruit, touch saline, fleshy fresh and clean. Entry level Blaufränkisch ’12 was very generous, fleshy dark fruit, with a spicy finish. Blau Leithaberg ’12 was more of the same but was more muscular, concentrated and flecked with graphite.

Loved Föllikberg ’12; a blend of Blau and Zweigelt. Inky ripe, luscious dark berry, rounded, full with sparks of woody spice. Dyno-Mite!

Was even more impressed with Pinot Noir Kreideberg ’12. If I had tasted it blind I would have said it was Cotes de Nuits or even a Volnay. Beautiful red fruit nose tinged with game. The palate; fresh mineral, grippy tannins, seductive spice with a sublime long and complex finish. A real show stopper.

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 11.48.45They have the right conditions in Leithaberg to produce botrytis or noble rot dessert wines and Wagentristl Trockenbeerenauslese ’13 was a beauty. Piercing pineapple, creamy stone fruit, supremely balanced sugars with a complex feel and texture.

Rudi was a lovely guy as well which makes me all the more sad that they did not have an importer here in the UK.  Hope someone snaps them up!

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 11.47.47The very memorably labelled Weingut Esterházy produce a very solid range. I was particularly fond of Estoras Grüner Veltliner ’12; an exploding melon and lime firecracker of a wine and available here for £11.95. Leithaberg DAC Blaufränkisch ’11 was an iron-rich, sanguine meaty beast.

They have Bourgogne nailed with a flinty buttery smoky Leithaberg DAC Chardonnay ’12 and Pinot Noir Classic ’12 complete with ripe sour cherry and liquorice.

Leithaberg by this tasting is not a region that can produce sub £10 bottles, so Weingut Nehrer should be applauded for a few potentially good value wines. Their Blaufränkisch ’13 was like a Rubenesque showgirl; full of warm plum, cigar, winter spice, fleshy, forward and fun. Leithaberg Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc) ’12; approachable, easy drinking with gentle golden fruit and creamy apple. Rounding out the trio was Leithaberg rot Blaufränkisch ’11. Plummy, inky, yet super fresh and underpinned by that complex mineral cocktail of slate, limestone and co that I had come to expect of Leithaberg “Blau”. At the time of writing Nehrer like Wagentristl, are seeking a UK Importer. Hope they find one.

Anita and Hans Nittnaus is worth a mention for Heideboden Pinot Blanc ’13; good value, bright lemony, rich melon, pure and clean. As well as an intense, focused marmalade beauty of a 60% Chardonnay/40% Pinot Blanc Trockenbeerenauslese 2006 (available @ Lea & Sandeman £19.95).

Now I am pretty sure that I have never highlighted what was served for lunch at a tasting of this sort. So this is a first. But so astonishing delicious and diverse was the spread from head chef Will Robertson that I must mention it. The fact that Will had spent some time living and working in Austria shone through in most certainly the best food I have ever had at a tasting.

I am drooling as I type the following: Slow roast duck with pickled cabbage on rye, pork schnitzel mustard and pickles, potato dumplings, herring with soft boiled egg on pumpernickel, smoked trout and cucumber cream on a buckwheat pancake and finally speck noodle dumpling and sauerkraut. Bravo Will, Vinoteca Soho is lucky to have you. Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 11.47.56Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 11.48.08

The only downside to this being a tasting and not a lunch per say meant that my professionalism kept me from just grabbing a few bottles and plonking myself down at the table. Oh, to have spent the rest of that grey and rainy afternoon gobbling up even more of those heavenly little morsels washed down with numerous glasses of those sublime wines.

It really was a fabulous tasting. Not only did I learn about a new region whose wines are so deserving of a wider audience but I was treated to a smorgasbord of Oesterreich delicacies. For that reason, it will go down as my most memorable tasting of 2014.

If Will ever does an Austrian dinner sign up right away and put my name down too!

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.

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