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.
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.
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
& 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.
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!!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!