Beer, Bangers & Bread in Sunny Shropshire

I was lucky enough to spend le weekend with mes amis in Shropshire visiting the Ludlow Spring Festival. SIBA (Society of Independent Brewers) were running the Festival Pub Marquee with over 140 real ales. We purchased our souvenir tasting glasses & commenced tasting.

SIBA Competition Winners, Moi & the lovely Ruth from SIBA

Salopian Brewery’s Lemon Dream went down a treat, followed by St George’s Dragon’s Blood. Otley Brewing Co’s Thai-Bo with its lemongrass & ginger undertones was an unusual but very pleasant combination. After that, my squirrelly handwriting becomes a little illegible. Let’s just say I had some great beers even if some were a bit over hopped for this squirrel’s taste.

Jingle, jangle

After a lie down in the sunshine next to the very shiny classic cars, with Morris Dancers jingling away pleasantly in the background, I continued my day. Cheeses were purchased from Mr Moydens Handmade Cheese & a very interesting loaf of dark Ale Bread from Richard C Swift caught my fancy. Coopers sausage rolls were consumed, soaking up the beer very nicely.

A big thumbs up to Ludlow for organising one of the greenest food & drink festivals I’ve ever been to with 100% compostable cups made from plant starch & categorised recycling bin system. Wondering who’s recycling all the beer left overs?

We watched a demonstration of how to make “Artisan Beer Pizza” using Bacheldre Watermill’s flour, Hobson’s Bitter & Prices’ baking expertise – an interesting way of using the yeast & flavours in the beer to enhance your pizza dough.

After a couple more tastes of beer, we appeared, blinking in the Ludlow sunlight, strolling smugly past the hoards of eager beer

How civilised . . .

& food lovers queuing to enter the festival who had not had the foresight to arrive early like us. We decided to round off our visit to the town with a very civilized afternoon tea at DeGreys.

Ahhh, c’est bon

Back chez nous, after a brief snooze on the sofa, it was time to eat & drink once more! I had decided to treat my friends to some Duvel Tripel Hop, all the way from Belgium. Our Shropshire cheeses – Wenlock Blue, Wenlock White & Smoked Newport together with Welsh Perl Wen by Caws Cenarth, some smoked salmon & boiled quails eggs were a perfect combination with this rich, complex beer. Citra hops gave the Duvel a grapefruit aroma & lightly hopped aftertaste without being too overpowering. At 9.5% ABV however, it was deceptively drinkable – beware the devil in disguise!

Salut to my fellow foodies & beer lovers in Shropshire, I will be back for more!!

Hops, A Beginners Guide

I was fortunate this week to sample one of the less well-known epicurean delights of hops. That’s right my friends, hops are not only a prized ingredient in beer: you can eat them too.

Hop shoots, also known as hopscheuten in (Flemish speaking) Belgium & bruscandoli in Italy are in fact one of the most expensive vegetables in the world. As the season is very short-lived, lasting for only a few weeks in March or April, & harvesting is labour-intensive, prices can reach as high as 1000 Euros a kilo. In Belgium, they are grown in darkened areas in order to maintain tenderness & therefore have a blanched appearance. Elsewhere, they are green, trimmed from the growing bines & either steamed or boiled for slightly longer to become tender. They look & taste a little like asparagus but with a hidden earthy depth to their flavour, perfect with light, creamy or lemony sauces & a poached egg on top. You can buy them from hopshoots.com. Here’s a recipe for Risotto di Bruscandoli.

A glass of De Landtsheer Brewery’s Bière Brut Malheur balanced the flavours of the hop shoots very well. Malheur is a blond, top-fermented ale beer, which is then re-fermented with similar yeast & finished in a similar style to that used in producing Champagne & other sparkling wines. I am indeed a superbly spoiled squirrel!

All this talk about hops got me thinking about how they relate to our favourite beverage. The current fashion among beer writers & expert commentators to focus on the individual hop varieties at the expense of other flavours & brewing techniques is, I feel, a little misplaced. What about the unsung heroes that contribute to our beer drinking enjoyment?

Beer is made, contrary to popular belief, not from hops but from malted grains, mainly barley. For centuries, herbs & spices known as gruit have been used to flavour & preserve beer, hops only being well established in the 15th & 16th centuries in Europe. Hops are added for the following reasons:

To add bitterness & dryness, counterbalancing the sweetness of the grain

To add a pleasant aroma

To stabilize the foam

To add a flavour that is unique to the variety of hop eg. lemon, grapefruit, herbal

To act as a natural preservative – hops have antiseptic properties

Hop plants come in two by two: male & female. The brewer uses seedless female hop cones as they contain the largest amount of Lupuline, the yellow resin that contains the goodies. They are added at various stages of the brewing process, most often at the boiling stage & even to the fermented beer, known as dry hopping. They are used in various forms, either neat or as pellets, oils or resins. The quantity of hops determines the bitterness of the beer – more hops = more bitter, the levels being measured in IBUs or International Bitterness Units. You can sometimes find this on the beer label: an IBU level of below 10 is low, 50+ is high.

Most beers are made with two kinds of hop: one for bitterness (known as bittering hops) & one for aroma. Some brewers however are experimenting with single hop, triple or more hop brews, pushing the boundaries of bitterness to the extreme. Craft brewers occasionally compete to create the hoppiest beers but perhaps they have forgotten what the function of hops really is? Hops are there to create a balance, a bit like the seasoning in your cooking, not to overpower the other flavours. There can be too much of a good thing!

Let’s hear it for hops – enjoy, whether you are eating or drinking them!

Easter Bunnies, Bricks, Triple Hops & Pink Elephants

Bonjour my friends! Hope you had great Easter & are now enjoying the rain! I myself went back to La Belgique to sample some Easter Beers & to pick up some beer gossip.

Belgian Easter Beers (in case you were wondering) are brewed by monks or farmers to welcome spring & celebrate Easter (no surprise there then!).  They were also created to ward off any evil spirits that may endanger that year’s harvest or bring bad luck to the community. This time of year also marked the end of the brewing season in the days when a lack of refrigeration limited production to the colder months. Brewers made a special effort to make stronger beers with fresh flavours to reward themselves for the early mornings & late nights spent brewing in the cold (any excuse!).

Some examples to try are Bos Keun (Easter Bunny) by De Dolle Brouwers, Gouden Carolus Easter from Het Anker & Grimbergen’s Optimo Bruno.

While on my travels, your favourite Squirrel Detective discovered that the famously mysterious Abbey of Westvleteren has begun to export their hugely desirable beer for the first time in their history. Rather than negotiate the “cloak & dagger” methods of obtaining this much-prized brew, 6 packs of Westvleteren XII with 2 glasses are becoming available in select venues worldwide. These packs, otherwise known as Bricks, are helping to fund a new dormitory for the monks, each pack representing an actual brick for the Abbey of Saint Sixtus.

Belgian supermarket chain Colruyt in collaboration with several local newspapers had 93,000 Bricks on offer, the remaining 70,000 packs being distributed across the world. 6 European countries (sadly not including the UK), the US & Canada were lucky enough to have some. E-bay, here I come!

Meanwhile, over at the Duvel Moortgat brewery in Breendonk, Duvel Tripel Hop 2012 Selection has been launched. Following the success of the 2007 & 2010 editions, Duvel have produced the 2012 version with the addition of Citra hops from the Yakima Valley in Washington State. The brewers select a different hop each time to add to the two already used, creating a unique flavour – this time with “notes of grapefruit & tropical fruit”. The third hop is added to the brewing process & also later, using a “dry hopping” method, which ensures that the flavour is maintained in the finished product. Yum, all we need to do now is find out where to get some.

Finalement, if you are short of ideas for the weekend, why not find your pink elephant costume & head over to the Huyghe Brewery near Ghent on Sunday at 10.00am for the Delirium Tremens Open Doors Day?

To celebrate the opening of their new brewery, they are offering a year’s worth of beer to the first 25 people to appear at the gates dressed as pink elephants in honour of their logo. Runners-up will receive a Delirium gift pack, so come on, what have you got to lose? A word of warning from the sponsors though: “Simply putting on a trunk hat is not sufficient. We want a full transformation, including the necessary Delirium accessories”. If you see a squirrel there disguised as an elephant, you know who that is . . . who said the Begians are boring?!

Bon weekend Babar!

Ps. Maybe if you ask nicely, maybe someone will let you borrow this costume? (See YouTube link above or below)

Madame Le Squirrel Enjoys Beer & Food

Bonjour mes amis! Madame Le Squirrel is feeling a little delicate today as she represented family Squirrel at Malmaison Birmingham’s FemALE event last night. Malhereusement, it was a ladies only event, so moi-même was not invited, but it is about time Madame Le Squirrel had a night out! So, over to the ladies . . . Yes, exactement mon petit! My friend & I enjoyed a fantastic evening of pure beer & food pleasure hosted by Beer Beauty (Marverine Cole), Purity Brewing Co’s Paul Halsey & Charles Faram & Co’s Paul Corbett. MalmaisonBirmingham provided a glamorous, red-carpeted welcome with low level lighting setting a mood of relaxed indulgence. We were welcomed with a champagne glass of German Pilsener Veltins (4.8%) & after an introduction from the above hosts & several top-ups of our glasses we began our food pairings.

A winning combination!

Grilled goats cheese & roast vegetable bruschetta was paired with the Pilsener. Purity’s Pure Gold (3.8%) was served with smoked salmon & guacamole & their Pure Ubu (4.5%) with beef braised in the same. Maisel’s Weisse (5.2%) was a big hit with roast pork stuffed with apricot & sage for most of the audience, trumped only by Bacchus’s Kriek (5.8%) with a dark chocolate delice & Kriek-soaked cherry. Opinion was divided among the audience when it came to the final offering of Sierra Nevada Stout (5.8%) with Isle of Mull aged cheddar. I thought it was magnifique; the dark richness of the beer off-setting the crumbly saltiness of the cheese admirably. As Antoine always says though, there are no rights & wrongs when it comes to taste. Marverine was a charming host, sharing her enthusiasm for beer most effectively & encouraging the audience to contribute their thoughts about the beer & food combinations. It was great to see so many other ladies enjoying beer & to hear them share their knowledgeable insights on the subject: cheers to that! It was also interesting to hear Purity’s perspective on women in the brewing industry & fascinating to learn new facts about hops from Paul Corbett, a real hop fanatic. So, many thanks to Malmaison, Purity, Charles Faram & Co & to the Beer Beauty herself for giving us an opportunity to enjoy the good things in life! Salut, bon weekend beer & food lovers.

Beer & Food Happiness

Bonjour mes amis! I have explored a variety of beer & food adventures this week that I would like to share with you. Visiting my squirrel friends in Burton-on-Trent, town of Malts and Marmite & world renowned for its brewing water & its Burton Ales, I stumbled on a little gem called the Burton Bridge Inn. They not only brew their own beers (Burton Bridge Brewery) but serve them in their gorgeous pub which has everything going for it, ranging from the roaring fire, great décor to its excellent service & of course great beers. I sampled their Bitter & their Bramble Stout (actually more than once) with a local farm-produced pork pie & a smidgeon of English mustard.

I then popped over to Shrewsbury, where my friends had been experimenting with recipes from Paul Mercurio’s book “Cooking With Beer”. We enjoyed Pork & Pumpkin Red Curry cooked with Belgium’s very own Duvel (in my honour, of course) together with 2 Blond Ales from Fyne Ales in Scotland. Jarl (3.8%) is a smooth, well balanced Blond Ale with a refreshing hoppy, almost grapefruit flavour & Avalanche (4.5%), which has a little more body and a fresh citrusy hoppiness. Such joy! Good food, good beer, good friends, what more could a Beer Detective Squirrel need, besides Madame Squirrel of course?

Beer has so much to offer as an ingredient; I heartily recommend that you try cooking with beer if you haven’t already done so. Please have a look at my new page if you need any tips.

Let the experiments begin! Bon weekend.

Antoine’s Beer & Chocolate Recommendation Of The Week

Young’s Double Chocolate Stout + Hotel Chocolat’s Salted Caramels 

Young’s Double Chocolate Stout is a rich, dark chocolate stout made with Chocolate Malt, dark chocolate & chocolate essence (see tasting notes below)

Hotel Chocolat’s Salted Caramels explode with flavour when you bite through the rich chocolate, the salt balancing the initial sweetness of the stout, then the sweetness of the caramel contrasts with the dry finish of the beer. The deep malty flavours of the beer enhance the flavour of the chocolate.

See what you think, enjoy!

YOUNG’S DOUBLE CHOCOLATE STOUT (bottled)
Overall impression Young’s Double Chocolate is a rich, dark chocolate Stout (Ale) beer in which you can smell a blend of dark roasted malt and good dark chocolate. It has a creamy, silky texture with complex, almost brandy-like deep malt flavours followed by a distinct bitter dryness and a big hit of chocolate, before ending in a lingering dry finish
Food Matches
Meat Roast venison
Poultry Pheasant
Fish Blackened tuna
Seafood Oysters
Veg Vegetarian Moussaka
Cheese Old Amsterdam Gouda
Dessert Chocolate brownie
Product info
Colour Group Flavoured/Dark
Origin London
Beer Style Double Chocolate Stout Ale beer
Brewery Young’s Brewery (est.1533) now brewed in Bedford by Wells & Young’s Brewing Company
Brewing ingredients Natural mineral water, Pale Ale, Crystal & Chocolate Malts, oats, a special blend of sugars, Fuggle & Golding hops, real dark chocolate & chocolate essence
ABV% 5.2%
IBU Approx. 25 (medium/high bitterness)
Calories 212
Allergens Oats, Barley Malt, gluten
Tasting notes
Appearance Black, opaque, little carbonation, frothy, creamy, tan coloured foam. EBC approx. 51
Nose Rich, chocolatey malt aromas
Mouth Feel Silky, creamy, roasted
Taste Profile Sweet – Bitter – Sweet – Dry
Flavour Profile Creamy sweetness, roasted bitter-dryness, dark chocolate with a lingering dry finish
Storage & Prep
Storage 8-14°C in a dry & dark environment
Prep Chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours before serving but don’t drink too cold
Glassware Stemmed tulip glass
Pouring Technique Bottled Ale Pour (hold the glass at 45° & pour gently)
Presentation 1cm/1 finger width sized head
Trivia Made with real dark chocolate
For more info www.wellsandyoungs.co.uk
People Who Liked This Beer Also Liked . . . Rogue Chocolate Stout, Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout

 

Beer & Chocolate

 

Beer & Chocolate, Where True Love Begins Myself & Madame Le Squirrel will be getting romantic next week – in case you hadn’t noticed the TV adverts, shop displays & massive hints from your other half – it is Valentines Day next Tuesday. What better way to celebrate than to combine two of the world’s finest flavours! Following on from our experiments with beer & cheese & in keeping with the notion of romance, I think it is time to introduce another unbeatable alliance: beer & chocolate.

The relationship between beer & chocolate is an enduring one on many levels. Just as we saw that the sweetness, bitterness, acidity & carbonation in beer cut through the fat & contrasted with the saltiness in cheese, similar magic takes place in the mouth when pairing beer with chocolate. Beer makes a fantastic addition to chocolate when making desserts, truffles, cakes & even hot chocolate. Not only that, I have discovered that chocolate is sometimes added to the brewing process to make chocolate beer! Now this is really starting to become interesting . . .

An Historical Partnership Beer & chocolate’s mutual love affair goes back centuries. Researchers at the University of California have suggested that chocolate was first made as an “unintended consequence” of making cacao beer in South America around 1100 BC. By studying ancient fragments of pottery they found in what is now Honduras, the archeologists formed the theory that Mesoamericans were brewing beer from fermented cacao pulp & that the discarded by-product of this process, the fermented roasted cacao seeds, became the first chocolate drink. This, they believe, eventually became the chocolate we all know & love today.

The Girl/Boy Next Door Similarly complicated processes are involved in making beer & as in chocolate. Barley is malted, dried, mashed & steeped in hot water. The resulting water is then fermented to create beer. Cacao beans are fermented, dried, refined & blended with other ingredients to create chocolate. Both chocolate & beer balance bitter & sweet flavours & can have complex layers of taste.

Beer & Chocolate Pairing No wonder they go so well together, it’s a match made in heaven! Rich stouts, porters, fruit or whisky beers are among the beer styles normally recommended to try with chocolate, but as always, it’s never that simple! It depends on the type of chocolate, the particular beer & your own individual taste; let the experiments begin.

Cooking With Beer & Chocolate Recipes that add beer to chocolate are abundant. Beer Hunter, Michael Jackson adds porter to a recipe for truffles in his book, “Beer”. This recipe for Guinness chocolate cake is well worth a try.

Chocolate Beer Chocolatey flavours can be obtained from roasted malts when brewing beer – there is even a variety called Chocolate Malt. Chocolate itself is added to some beers in the form of pure chocolate, chocolate essence, cacao butter or cacao nibs. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout (Brooklyn Brewery) for example achieves its chocolately taste from malt alone, whereas Young’s Double Chocolate Stout has Chocolate Malt, real dark chocolate & chocolate essence in the brew.

Belgium, The World Champions Once again, I know I am biased, but it’s difficult to dispute that Belgium has some of the finest selections of beer & chocolate in the world. As we often use cacao beans from Africa rather than South America, our chocolate has a more intense flavour. Chocolate producers such as Neuhaus, Wittamer, Godiva & Cote D’Or are renowned worldwide for the quality of their goods. Belgian beers, as we know are known for their huge variety of styles & flavours. Fruit beers such as Belle Vue Kriek or Liefmans Goudenband & strong Trappist beers such as Rochefort 10 or Chimay Blue create the most divine taste sensations when paired with a ballotin of fine Belgian chocolates.

With beer & chocolate creating such a divine affaire du coeur, how can we go wrong? Madame Le Squirrel, I think we are going to have a great night in next week!

Antoine’s Beer & Cheese Recommendation of the Week

Bath Ales, Gem  + Comté Cheese

Gem is an English Best Bitter/Ale beer that lives up to its name. This chestnut brown, light & well-balanced beer has a roasted malt aroma, with a hint of hops & a fruity, soft bitterness. It has a warming caramel sweetness, with a fresh hop taste to finish (see tasting notes below).

Comté Cheese (also called Gruyère de Comté) is a French cheese made from unpasteurized cow’s milk in the Franche-Comté region of eastern France (where Raymond Blanc comes from). It has an ACO or Appellation of Controlled Origin, which means that it can only be made in this region & only with milk from Montbeliarde Cattle. Normally the cheese is matured for 4, 12 or 18 months but can be aged for 24 months or longer. It has a rich, extra mature, slightly nutty flavour and a sweet finish.

Gem’s fresh hoppy flavours and subtle carbonation cut through the richness of the cheese bringing out the sweet, nutty flavours of the Comté which blend brilliantly with the roasted, malty, caramel bitter-sweetness of the beer creating for moi, a perfect taste sensation!

Enjoy!

Bath Ales, Gem (bottled)
Overall impression An English Best Bitter/Ale beer. Chestnut brown, light, roasted malt aroma with a hint of hops & fruity, soft bitterness. It has a warming caramel sweetness with a fresh hoppiness to finish
Food Matches
MeatPoultry

Seafood

Veg

Cheese

BBQ meatGame

Smoked Oysters

Roast vegetable quiche

Extra mature cheddar

Product info
Colour Group Amber
Origin Warnley, Gloucestershire, South West England
Beer Style Best Bitter/Ale beer
Brewery Bath Ale Brewery (est.1995)
Brewing ingredients Marris Otter barley malt, wheat, Goldings hops
ABV% 4.8%
IBU 25-30 (medium/high bitterness)
Calories 185
Allergens Wheat, gluten
Tasting notes
Appearance Clear, deep amber with finely laced foam. EBC approx. 20
Nose Malt, fruit aroma with a hint of hops
Mouth Feel Light, easy drinking/light bodied, well balanced
Taste Profile Sweet – Bitter – Sweet
Flavour Profile Fruity, soft bitterness, caramel sweetness, fresh hop finish
Storage & Prep
Storage 8-14°C in a dry & dark environment
Prep Chill in the fridge for at least 6 hours before serving
Glassware Straight pint glass
Pouring Technique Bottled Ale Pour (hold the glass at 45° & pour gently)
Presentation 1cm/1 finger width sized head
Trivia Bath Ales was set up in 1995 by former employees of the Smiles brewery in Bristol. They have won a range of awards for their beers including Gem, Dark Side, Ginger Hare & Festivity. The beer is still made with floor-malted barley
For more info www.bathales.com
People Who Liked This Beer Also Liked . . . Fullers London Pride, Timothy Taylor, Adnams SSB, Youngs Special Black, Black Sheep Best Bitter

Beer & Cheese

Beer & Cheese, a Match Made in Heaven

Apologies mes amis for my inactivity last week, I was suffering from le Squirrel Flu. Maybe I should take a leaf out of my woodland friends the hedgehogs’ book & hibernate over winter next year! I hope this week finds you all well & ready for more beer & food investigations.

To help us through these chilly days, I think it’s about time we experimented with one of the finest beer & food combinations you can find: beer & cheese.

Contrary to popular belief, wine is not the natural partner for cheese. No, my friends, it is a myth! Although some combinations work well together, the components of wine & cheese fight each other. The fat in the cheese coats the tongue, masking the taste of the wine.

Not so with beer. Bitterness, acidity & carbonation work together to cut through the fat in cheese, cleansing the palate & bringing out the cheese flavour. The saltiness in cheese is also a perfect match for the sweetness found in even the hoppiest of beers.

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense: as the old adage says, “If it grows together, it goes together”. Both beer & cheese originated as farm produce & even today are still produced in close association. You could say that together they make a complete & beautiful circle of recycling heaven (yes, squirrels can be poets too). Most beers are made with barley, the husks of which (known as spent grain) are a by-product of the brewing process, which is sold to farmers to feed their cattle. The cows produce milk which is then used to produce cheese & voilà, the circle is complete!

Most monks who brew beer also make cheese. Some even wash their cheese in beer to encourage growth of the mould & bacteria that give the cheese its distinctive colour & flavour. The famous Stinking Bishop cheese is made in a similar way, its rind being washed in Perry.

Here is the wonderful Garrett Oliver, renowned brewmaster, beer & food expert & editor of The Oxford Companion to Beer demonstrating the many splendours of beer & cheese partnerships:

So we have a bit of everything: sweet, salty, fatty flavours, recycling & religion, what more could we want? But where, I hear you ask, do we begin? The world of cheese is almost as huge & varied as the world of beer. In Belgium alone, there are more than 300 cheeses to go with more than 1,000 beers! Well, I say start at the beginning & keep trying until you find the combinations you like. To narrow things down a bit, here are my top 5 generic beer & cheese matches to get you started.

Wheat beer + cream cheese

Raspberry beer + goats cheese

German Pilsner beer + Gouda

IPA + mature cheddar

Barley Wine (it’s a kind of beer, don’t worry!) + blue cheese.

Plenty of writers have their favourites, like Adrian Tierney-Jones, writing in the Sabotage Times. Ben McFarland (Beer Writer of The Year) has several pages of his book “World’s Best Beers” devoted to the subject. Even the British Cheese Board has a list of British beer & cheese combinations, but when the cracker crumbles, it’s down to you to decide what works for your taste.

Next time, I will be looking at my current favourite combination: Bath Ales, Gem + Comté cheese

Allons-y mes amis, to the cheese board tout de suite!

Let’s Celebrate Burns Night With Scottish Beer!

Burns Night This week, I have been learning about what my Scottish chums get up to on these cold winter nights. I have been hearing about this feast of celebration you call Burns Night, which will take place next Wednesday 25th January. As your favourite Squirrel Beer Detective, I decided to investigate further & have asked my squirrel relatives in the Caledonian Forest to fill me in on the details.

Robert Burns (also known as Rabbie Burns) is a much-loved Scottish poet & songwriter, so they tell me, who wrote in the late 1700s. The most well known of his creations is the poem & song “Auld Lang Syne”, sung all over the world on new year’s eve.

Lovers of all things Scottish across the globe celebrate his life & work every year with a Burns Supper on 25th January. These Suppers often follow a standard format of speeches, bagpipe playing, poem recitals, eating & drinking. That sounds like my kind of night!

Following the host’s welcome speech, the guests join in with what’s known as:

The Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

And sae let the Lord be thankit.

A traditional soup such as Scotch Broth or Cock-a-Leekie is served to start the meal, then everyone stands to welcome in the main course.

The Entrance of The Haggis A piper playing bagpipes leads the way to the table followed by the cook who brings in the haggis. The haggis is then welcomed in:

Address To a Haggis


Burns’ poem praising the haggis is recited. In this vintage film clip, the performer speaks almost as if he is welcoming an old friend!

After a whisky toast, the guests will tuck in & enjoy their food. Following the meal, there follows a series of toasts, recitals & speeches including:

The Immortal Memory: remembering Burns’ life & poetry

The Appreciation: where the host thanks the previous speaker

Toast to the Lassies: where the men complement & drink to the ladies’ health

Reply (sometimes known as Toast to the Laddies): where the ladies complement & drink to the mens’ health.

Then general singing, dancing & drinking begins. I love the way that the food & drink are given their rightful reverence in these celebrations.

Scottish Beer But where, I hear you ask, does beer fit into all of this? Well, my friends, this is all an excuse for me to tell you about Scottish beer! There is a very fine tradition of brewing in Scotland that goes back centuries. Not only does this magnificent country produce some of the world’s finest whiskies, some of its contemporary breweries are also making their mark. Innis & Gunn, West, BrewDog, Williams Brothers, Harviestoun, Fyne Ales & Orkney are among those achieving worldwide acclaim. Some even use whisky barrels to age their beer, giving the beer lover an all-round Scottish experience.

Belgian Scottish Beers Just to confuse everyone, when you order a Scotch in Belgium, you will be served a beer, not a whisky, but that’s the Belgians for you! You could say that whisky is in fact distilled beer, but let’s not go down that road for now. The term Scotch Ale in fact refers to a particular range of beer styles, the most common of which is recognised as being similar to an English Barley wine & is otherwise known as a “wee heavy”. These ales are dark, full-bodied & reminiscent of sweet stouts with complex chocolatey/toffee flavours & plenty of alcohol.

Grandpère Squirrel was a big fan of Gordon’s Scotch (known as Douglas Celtic Ale in Scotland) which was brewed especially for the Belgian market at 8.6%ABV. Served in a beautiful, thistle-shaped glass, Grandpère would enjoy a few of these every day for health reasons, so I was told.

Beer Experiments Time for some experiments I think. After last week’s investigations into taste, flavour & how the senses are linked with emotions, I have been eager to try out some Heston Blumenthal-style inspired magic tricks. I want to see if we can transport ourselves to bonnie Scotland by tasting Scottish beer while stimulating our other senses. Here goes.

I suggest that you try Fraoch Heather Ale from Williams Brothers Brewing Co. (see tasting notes below) or you could try any other Scottish beer or even a wee dram of whisky.

Make sure you are sitting comfortably with a minimum of distraction. Place your wine glass & unopened beer (at the correct temperature of course) on the table in front of you. Have your computer/smartphone ready on this page. Now open & pour your beer & play the video below.
Swirl your glass then take a deep sniff with your eyes closed. Now take a slurp of your beer, still with your eyes closed, & listen to the sounds on the link.
Now play the next video. This time watch & listen (you may want to turn the volume up on this one) while you enjoy your beer. Surrender to the experience!

So, how was that for you? Let me know how you got on or if you have any other suggestions. Bon weekend mes amis

Brand Name Fraoch Heather Ale
Overall impression A hazy, pale amber-orange, aromatic, medium-bodied & medium-light Scottish Gruit Ale. Flavoured with heather & bogmyrtle & with a honey & caramel sweetness, an exciting, citrusy, herbal spiciness & a long dry finish.
Food match Hot smoked salmon with warm potato salad
Product info
Colour Amber
Origin Alloa, Scotland
Brewery Williams Bros. Brewing Co.
Brewing ingredients Barley malt, wheat malt, heather, bogmyrtle
ABV% 5.0%
Beer style Scottish Gruit Ale. Gruit is a mixture of herbs & spices added for flavouring & preserving beer, which was used in many countries in the Middle Ages before the use of hops
Tasting notes
Look Pale amber-orange, hazy, with gentle carbonation
Smell Floral, herbal, honey-caramel
Texture Medium-light, medium-bodied
Taste Sweet/spicy
Flavour Honey-caramel sweetness & a floral/heather/herbal spiciness
Finish Lingering dry
For more info Williams Bros. Brewing Co.