Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Beer from the North for the Boy from the North.

For the last 2 months I have been trying to rent the empty room in my house. Earlier this week Paul the Manc and Penny the dog moved in. To mark the arrival of this northern gentleman I decided I would hook into a few northern beers. As its hard to find beer from the capital of the north in this neck of the woods (I wouldn’t subject myself to Boddingtons) I selected a range of beers from around the north of England, no mention of sparklers, coal mines or football, honest…

Nick Stafford Hambleton Stud 4.6%abv
North Yorkshire

An interesting beer although not one I would want a session on. This tasted like it had been matured in wood although I’m sure it hadn’t been.

Pours a light yellow white wispy head. Aroma features preserved candifruit, hints of ripe stone fruit, a touch of woody oak. On the palate the woody note is pronounced with a light fruity whisky character. The mouth feel is decidedly light almost thin with a slightly hollow finish. This reminded me of a scotch on the rocks that’s been left till the ice has melted. Very interesting beer, , Id love to know where the oak/whisky character is coming from.

Black Sheep Ale 4.4%abv
North Yorkshire

A common sight in my recycling bin, one of the few decent beers sold by my local off license.

Pours a nice mid amber with a moderate white head. Aroma features tangy earthy hops with an almost tussock-like grassy note. On the palate there are hints of marmalade, and a rich yet dry English malt character that sits in tight balance with a firm bitterness. Dependable pint.

Thwaites Lancaster Bomber 4.4%abv

I enjoyed the mild, but I have tried this twice and it has never been up to much.

Pours deep amber with a fluffy white head. Aroma features fruity tangy hops, with a touch of stewed malt and an oxidative character. ON the palate there is sweet malt, more stewed malt and oxidised hop leading to a firm but slightly harsh bitterness. Past its best.

Jennings Sneck Lifter 5.1%abv

Original tasty ale that somewhat defies style, very nice.

Pours a dark amber with a fluffy beige head. Aroma features sharp fresh hops, with a hint of banana fruit. On the palate there is sweet rich roasty malt, banana and a firm bitter finish. Well constructed original beer.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Wedding Update

The wedding was a big success, a beautiful mix of Hindu and Maori tradition followed by a solid shin dig. The beer went down well and was all consumed but lasted well into the early hours of the morning. If I did it again I would make sure the kegs were racked bright. I certainly underestimated just how roughly the kegs would be treated and the beer was pretty murky as a result. Still at the end of the day everyone was happy.

Cheers to the new husband and wife.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Bride Ale

So you reckon you’re a pretty prolific home-brewer? You think you have brewed a fair bit of beer in your time? Well this weekend is the culmination of several months work when I will be providing the draught beer for my friend Chet’s wedding. I have a golden ale, a stout and an amber ale prepared for the day. The 650 guests will have the potential to empty my reserves in one round if they all decide try my beer but we all know that wont happen.. Most of the guests won’t be drinking beer, and of the beer drinkers most won’t touch anything that isn’t yellow and fizzy.

Hopefully my ales will go down well, it’s always a nervous situation when you serve up your wares to strangers, it will be a fantastic day what ever happens.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

IPA Verses APA

Latter this week Regional Wines and Spirits will be holding their monthly beer tastings with this months series being on the theme of India Pale Ale contrasted with American Pale Ales. I thought I would get into the spirit of things and do a little comparison myself.

On a sun drenched evening earlier this week I sat down on my deck with 3 IPAs, a lamb madras and a palak paneer from the new Indian takeaway up the valley. On another evening I cranked Tom Petty and Johnny Cash on the stereo and tasted my way through 3 American or American style Pale Ales.

Ladies and Gentlemen in the Red corner wearing stars and stripes with an eagle on the shoulder and a menacing look in there eyes we have Epic Pale Ale, Emerson APA and Anchor Liberty, in the blue corner wearing the Union Jack with a cricket bat in their hands and a Leicester City FC scarf around the shoulder we have Deuchars IPA (wearing a Union Jack!!? The Scots will hate that) Goose Island IPA and Burton Bridge Empire Ale. A good clean fight…

Caledonian Deuchars IPA 4.4%ABV

We start with a modern day UK IPA low in strength and not as heavily hopped as one might imagine an IPA should be but as Ron Pattinson has so challengingly shown its hypocritical to refuse to accept a low strength IPA yet embrace a low strength Mild.

Pours a reassuring pale hue with a thick white head that climbs out of the glass. Aroma features heathery hops a touch of fresh red apple, and a touch of barley sugar. On the palate there is a dry barley sugar note, loads of heathery hop flavour and a chewy mouth feel all leading to a smooth bitterness.

Epic Pale Ale 5.4%ABV

The first APA up and it’s the star of recent NZ beer history. Full of American hops and finding its way into chillers that have never seen a craft beer in there lives its big its brash and you’ll never again be hopless.

Pours a pale gold with a sustained white head. Aroma features a complex mix of lychees, a touch of gooseberry, an un defined tropical fruit note, tropic Just Juice? . On the palate there is lots of tropical fruit, a slight salty note, some sweet malt a slightly hollow finish that seems to be neither bitter nor sweet. Fantastic aroma, a little unbalanced on the palate.

Goose Island IPA 5.9%ABV

A classic American IPA that is well known for its resinous hop weight.

Pours a mid gold with a billowing thick white head. Aroma features big bold raw hop aroma, slightly dusty earthy hopsack note. On the palate there is biscuity sweet malt, tangy grapfruit and a smooth ballanced finish. Im sure I remeber this as being more bitter in the past.

Emerson’s APA 2006 vintage 6%ABV

Here I have cheated and offered up an archive tasting note on last years Emerson’s APA vintage.

Balance is the catch cry for the 2006 version. Outstanding fruity citric grapefruit with some lychee aromas jump out of the glass while on the palate citric hop flavour and luscious complex malt vie perfectly.

Burton Bridge Empire Ale 7.5% ABV

A historical IPA recipe from a micro brewer in Burton very interesting beer, not nearly as fragrant as modern interpretations.

Very interesting historic IPA. Pours a mid gold with a tight white head. Aroma features a heady mix of yeasty fruit notibly apple perhaps some white grape, and alcohol. Palate starts with sweet malt, more apple some warmth then a resounding bitterness. Estery warm ale.

Anchor Liberty 5.9%ABV

A classic American Pale Ale , arguably the APA that started the style, hoppy and resinous yet well cushioned with malt character.

Pours a mid gold with thick sustained white head. Aroma features citrusy hops, notably grapefruit and a cracker like malt note. On the palate there is more citrusy hop that is well balanced by biscuity malt culminating in a firm bitterness.

Who’s the winner ? don’t be daft its like apples and pears mate. I guess that’s a draw. I will see what happens at the tastings.


Update 26/10/07:

In true post modern fashion this blog entry about the Regional Wines tasting was used as a resource at the Regional Wines tasting. The public feeling seemed to be in favour of the IPA's over the APA's , I would probibly agree with that.

I was also informed that tasting notes from this blog will be featured in the next Regional Wines newsletter, rather flattering.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Apply the Brakes!

Brakspear was one of Britain’s most loved breweries. The level of passion for the Brakspear Brewery can be seen bubbling out of the writing of Roger Protz and the late Michael Jackson. Indeed when it was closed there was a palpable level of bitterness expressed by the aforementioned writers, New Zealand’s very own Geoff Griggs swore to return and march up and down the road outside the brewery in protest. As has happened with so many family breweries the real-estate value of the brewery ended up outstripping the production value of the brewery, at least that’s the argument.

I have always been captivated by the Brakspear Brewery in part because of the obvious love held by the likes of Messers Protz, Griggs and Jackson, in part because of the unique fermentation system that was employed and in part because of the intense Englishness with which the brewery has always been presented.

I’m a self professed anglophile, my flatmates know that when watching Midsomer Murder dvds pub scenes will always be viewed frame by frame to see what’s on the pump clips, yes I’m a geek and I’m ok with that. Brakspear has always seemed to fit into that mythical England of ‘Oxbridge’ rowing races, country villages, and riverside pubs. This has of course undoubtedly been helped by a vigorous marketing campaign where the slogan 'apply the brakes!” has accompanied various Enid Blytonesque scenes.

The beer has always been pretty good to. After the brewery closed, production eventually found its way to the Wychwood Brewery in Witney. The unique double drop system that moves the fermenting wort into a lower chamber mid way through the primary fermentation was installed and the beers apparently taste very similar to how they used to taste.

Earlier this year Beerforce started to bring some of the Brakspear beers into New Zealand and I was given my first chance to try double dropped beer.

Brakspear Organic Beer 4.6%

Pours a mid gold with a light diminishing white head. The aroma features a distinctive honeyed character, with a rich earthy hopsack note. On the palate earthy resinous hops and honeyish malt vie ending with a tangy firm bitterness.

Brakspear Triple 7.2%

Pours a mid amber with a fluffy white head. Aroma features zesty hop aroma with a hint of caramel malt and a touch of berry fruit. On the palate there is a big tangy hop character, bitter fruit in the mid palate leading to a sweet smooth tangy finish. I have had 3 bottles of this now with some being more malt accented where as when I sat down to write some notes it tasted hoppier. Good stuff.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tui touches down in the motherland.

I’m back from playing at being the landed gentry. Let me tell you its pretty nice living how the other ½ live, and I suspect its somewhat less than ½. I had a fantastic time and managed to introduce the CEO of Te Mata Cheeses to Thomas Hardy’s Ale. He loved it although in line with his experience with wine immediately named it a ‘beer sticky’. On our way up we drove through the Wairarapapa. At Mangatainoka sits the Tui Brewery now part of the Dominion Breweries group. It became part of the national company in 1969 having been founded in 1889. Tui was a traditional Victorian brewery. It brewed real ale and was known for the quality of its IPA, Brown Ale and Stout. In the 1930’s a Tower brewery was built like the Victorian Towers of the century before. After WW2 the environment became very difficult for regional brewers and most were eaten up by either New Zealand Breweries (that is, Lion) or Dominion Breweries. This was the age of continuous fermentation, a process designed by Morton Coutts a New Zealander, which splits the fermentation process into two stages and allows wort to be constantly fed through the production line. When Tui was acquired instead of shutting it down a continuous fermentation system was installed to provide a base to take on the New Zealand Breweries Brewery in Wellington. All this results in the fact that a brewery that looks like a traditional gem is in fact a lager factory and the brand Tui IPA that was once an English style pale ale of some regard is now an industrial amber lager with some pretty serious flaws which stem from the yeast having been treated like slave labour So why have I wasted my time writing this?

Well it seems the two big New Zealand Breweries have decided its time to take on England, for the expat market , the English market or both. While Lion has exported their pub, DB have been getting some concerning good press for Tui IPA. In the latest Beers of the World magazine issue Jeff Evans of CAMRA Good Bottled Beer Guide fame gave Tui a 7.5 out of ten. Now, the site run by Roger Protz and Tom Cannanvan have offered a mix case beer club deal that is meant to include decent examples of different styles with Tui as its IPA example!!

For those of you who are lucky enough to have never tasted Tui, we aren’t talking Greene King IPA here, Tui makes that seem flawless and strictly to style, more we are talking Tetley’s Creamflow or John Smith’s Smooth but not as clean.

What the hell is going on ??!!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Saving Kiwis overseas from experiance

One of the more concerning pieces of news recently has been the much hyped export of a Speights Ale House to London by Lion Breweries which docked at Canary Warf this week. While English bloggers such as Stonch have shown some excitement and interest over the move, myself and many of my beer interested country men feel just a little sick about it.

For generations New Zealand has had the tradition of the big OE, or overseas experience where the young have travelled to the Motherland, usually London to work and gain experiences that they would not get in New Zealand. One of the positive consequences of this tradition has been that when these people return to New Zealand they return with tastes that have been shaped by what they eat and drank in Europe. Many of New Zealand’s pioneering craft brewers discovered that there was more to beer than sweet amber lager while on their OE and came home on a mission to increase the range of beers available within NZ. The back story to the promotion has been that some Kiwis living in London have missed Speights Gold Medal Ale so much that they asked the brewery to send some over and the brewery in response sent a whole pub. Leaving aside the fact that this is all far to convenient to be real , it beggars the question is the beer in London now so bad that a boring mass produced lager had to be exported to fill the void? Of course not.

This is like if a high profile ‘English Pub’ opened in Time Square New York selling Carling through fake handpumps and claiming it was there so people didn’t have to drink that crappy American beer anymore, it just makes me cringe.

It also appears that it will just be Speights Gold Medal Ale on sale, all publicity so far has shown a full bank of taps all with matching Speights Gold labels.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Adnams Broadside a great beer from the coast

Adnams are a family brewer situated in the seaside fishing town of Southwold, Suffolk. The brewery has developed from trading mainly to its tied estate in Suffolk to being widely distributed through the free trade across England. Adnams Bitter and Broadside are now national brands with bottled Broadside making its way to the antipodes several times a year.

Pictures of Southwold always look gloriously dark and gloomy everything a fishing village should be. I tend to have an unusual attitude to weather although one which is pretty healthy when living in a temperate long thin island stuff between the arid sub continent of Australia and the southern ocean. I enjoy weather in almost all its forms (very hot weather and humidity excluded) with a slight bias to winter, while others moan on frosty mornings I take relish. Anyway I digress with a near direct line to the North Sea Southwold looks like a place I could get into with the help of a fireside pint in a pub.

While I have never tasted the cask version of Broadside which often gets a bad rap, the bottled version is right up my ally. Despite sharing the brand the two are very different beers with the cask version sitting at 4.7%abv in sharp contrast to the 6.3%abv of the bottled version. Strong with a bold complex range of flavours bottled Broadside manages to arrive on our shores tasting fresh.

Adnams Broadside 6.3%abv

Pours a deep red copper with a medium white head. Aroma features warm earthy almonds, a tangy English hop note, and a sweet fruit ester that is hard to put a finger on, I cant argue with the official line that its conserved fruit. On the palate there is sweet malt, nuts, almonds again , a touch of warming alcohol fruity hop flavour and finally a firm bitter finish. Wow.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A taste of the high life

As mentioned in the last post I’m off to stay at a luxury lodge for a night next week. Te Mata Cheeses and Summerlee Luxury Lodge share owners and as a result some of my co-workers, my category managers and myself are off to live it up for a night. Summerlee Lodge is the old farmstead house on the Summerlee Sheep Station which sits on Cape Kidnappers in the Hawesbay, a place famous for it garnet colony.

The lodge is attached to a boutique winery and has views out over the ocean. A North Italian chef is coming to cook us a meal and no doubt there will be wine and cheese laid on. Try as I have I don’t care for wine so I have just packed a bag of goodies to tide me over. Boon Geuze, Adnams Broadside, Thomas Hardies Ale and Chimay Grande Reserve should keep me happy while the grape juice flows. Its a hard life ...

Monday, October 8, 2007

Cheese of the Month

As a few people have indicated that they would like little of my cheese knowledge shared on this blog I have decided I will start doing a ‘Cheese of the Month’ posting each month.. While I was tempted to start local with one of the fantastic New Zealand cheeses, particularly as a certain cheese producer is about to put me up for a night in their luxury lodge as a thank you for flogging their milk fats, how easily one is bought. But no, this month since it has just been made legal in this country it had to be the ‘King of Cheeses’ from France, ladies and gentleman… Roquefort.

Until recently it has been illegal in New Zealand to import any un-pasteurised cheese that has been aged less than 60 days. That has effectively excluded some of the worlds greatest cheeses from the New Zealand market. In my privileged position I have gained access to Roquefort over the years as it hasn’t been illegal to import it for personal consumption. One of my cheese importers kindly supplied me and some of my co-workers with quarters each Christmas.

When milk is pasteurised it is heated to 72c for 15 to 20 seconds. Pasteurisation reduces the number of viable pathogens in the milk; unfortunately it also strips a lot of the more subtle flavours out of the milk and removes many of the natural enzymes in the milk which help mammals digest dairy products.

Roquefort is a sheeps milk blue cheese which is aged in the caves of Cambalou where it picks up the natural cultures of the cave. Only cheeses which are aged in these caves can use the name Roquefort. Many blue cheeses will have the word roqueforti listed in the ingredients as just like brewers yeasts have been isolated and cultured for use in breweries far from the yeasts origins, the moulds that give Roquefort its amazing sharp tangy blue flavour are used in many blues across the world.

Roquefort is marketed as the ‘King of Cheeses’ but if American Bud is anything to go by, being the king isn’t that great. Another description often heard, that I feel is more apt, is that it’s the whiskey of the cheese world. Roquefort is incredibly complex; while the sheep’s milk provides a tangy nutty sweet character the aggressive blue character fills the palate with intense almost perfumy flavours.

I once gathered a group of friends together pulled a 2003 bottle of Chimay Grande Reserve from the cellar and dished out the Roquefort. The dried fruit notes, hints of port and sweet malty weight of the Chimay matched the enveloping strength of the Roquefort perfectly. At the time the cheese was still illegal and the experience was all the sweeter for it.

A really old beer

Today I stumbled across something very interesting while wasting time I should have been using to clean kegs. On trademe, NZ’s version of eBay I found some very interesting beers for sale. Towards the end of last year a cache of vintage beers were found in the cellars below what was the Bass Brewery, now Coors, how wrong does that sound? ‘Coors of Burton Upon Trent’. The oldest was the Ratcliff Ale brewed in 1869 to celebrate the birth of Harry Ratcliff. The Ratcliff family were one of the owning interests in the Bass Empire. That’s when Charles Dickens was still knocking about, the Cutty Sark was launched and the Duke of Edinburgh made the first Royal visit to New Zealand, he visited a farm at what is now a long established urban suburb of Wellington, Newtown.

Many other interesting beers were found including Jubilee Strong Ale from1977, Princess Ale from 1978, Kings Ale from 1902, and the Princes Ale 1929. Well now these beers in addition to a bunch of Bass Brewery Museum signs and mirrors are up for auction on Trademe. It looks to me like someone has emigrated and is looking for some extra cash to set themselves up. If only I didn’t have a mortgage, I’d be bidding like the hedonist I am!

Update 11/10/07

Trademe has removed all the items listed by the user who was trying to sell these old beers. Stolen property? or a hoax ? ...

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Saltaire Brewery

Saltaire is a Victorian model village out of Bradford that was created by Titus Salt in 1853. Salt ran a number of textile mills and was the largest employer in Bradford when he set up Saltaire to house and entertain the workers employed at his largest mill in the Aire Valley. Saltaire featured a standard of living conditions that was unheard of in working class Victorian England. Saltaire featured a hospital, reading room, library, concert hall, allotments, and billiard room. What Saltaire did not feature was a pub, or a brewery as Titus was a tee-totaler. That however has been corrected with a wine bar called “Don’t Tell Titus” and more interestingly with the opening of the Saltaire Brewery in the old generating hall that powered the Saltaire Tram system. Saltaire was set up by Tony Gartland, a lawyer of twenty years, and Paul Simpson who had worked for Whitbread and Holsten. The brewery has gained acclaim from both SIBA and CAMRA from packaging of there bottled products which list ingredients and clearly describe the flavours or style they are trying to create. However whats inside the bottles is equally deserving of praise.

The Saltaire beers have been popping up in NZ over the last few months and as I have already written on this blog, I’m a big fan. All the beers feature a prominent malt accent with earthy robust English hopping taking a supporting roll.

Fuggels Bitter 3.8%abv

Pours a mid gold with a white thick creamy head. Complex aroma features a heathery spicy hop character, tangy fruit, a hint of caramel and a boiled sweet note. On the palate there is lots of sweet creamy malt, a hint of the boiled sweet note from the aroma and a clean hop finish. Drinks way above its 3.8%abv..

Goldings Ale 4.2%abv

Pours a crystal clear light gold with a tight fluffy white head. Exceptional sweet toffee aroma with a hint of mineraly character, interestingly earthy citric hops only seem to appear as the beer warms. On the palate there is heaps of sweet malty toffee, hints of nuts and earthy hop ending in a satisfyingly bitter finish. Awesome beer not nearly as hop driven as the name would suggest but a top pint.

XB 4.3%abv

Spicy tangy English aroma, hints of dried fruit, and tangy vine fruit vie with nutty malt, certainly none of the diacetyl hinted at in the description. On the pallet fruit continues, with some spicy anise notes, malt sweetness makes a brief supporting appearance but little in the way of malt flavour. A big resounding bitterness is left at the end. A fantastic bitter that might be a little more balanced if served through a sparkler in the Yorkshire tradition.

Challanger Special 5.2%abv

Pours dark amber with a white head. Aroma features chocolate, and dark rich toffee. The palate features roasty, chewy malt with a distinct smoky character, the complex malt combination perhaps reminds me more of a new world scotch ale than an English beer, ends in a smooth clean bitter finish.

Friday, October 5, 2007

And while we are talking about the greatest beer on earth...

Named after the writer and poet, Thomas Hardy’s Ale is one of the most striking beers on earth. Originally brewed by Eldridge Pope to celebrate the refurbishment of the Trumpet Major pub in Dorchester in 1968, it also happened to be the 40th anniversary of the writers’ death. The beer bore the lines from the book The Trumpet Major “It was of the most beautiful colour that the eye of an artist in beer could desire; full in body, yet brisk as a volcano; piquant, yet without a twang; luminous as an autumn sunset; free from streakiness of taste, but, finally, rather heady".

Eldridge Pope set out to brew a beer that would match Hardy’s description. The beer was matured in sherry casks for 9 months and presented in corked pint, ½ pint, and nip bottles. The demand and interest in the beer that was meant to be a one off meant that from 1974 it was brewed regularly, with a one year absence in 1976, vintages being produced yearly until 1999. Production ceased after several years of brewing to a significantly altered recipe (The 100% Maris Otter grist of old was replaced with a 50/50 mix of pale ale and pilsner malt, an ale yeast was substituted for a bohemian lager yeast) . Eldridge Pope closed as so many English Family brewers have and the American importer, fittingly named Phoenix, who had been shipping the beer into the States since the very first vintage bought the rights to the brand.

O’Hanlons gained the contract to brew the new Thomas Hardy’s ale. Again the recipe has changed this time to include crystal malt. I have only ever tasted O’Hanlon’s version and I am utterly in love with it, filling my cellar with bottles when ever I can.

One of the absolute genius elements to the recipe is that no matter where in its maturation you drink it Hardy’s is always in balance. When its young you are struck by the huge rich malty layers of flavour which are nearly over powering but also by the massive bitterness which acts
to balance the malt and prevent it from becoming a syrupy mess, as the beer ages it gains complexity, fortified wine flavours and its bitterness mellows. Heres some tasting notes I wrote after sampling a 2005 vintage from my cellar recently:

Thomas Hardy’s Ale 2005 11.7%abv

Pours a dark reddish amber with little wispy white head that disappears quickly. Aroma features big dark toffee, a vinous character (mainly port, a touch of brandy) and nutty malt. On the palate there is a big sweet malt, a nutty water biscuit note, toffee as is on the nose, fortified wine notes, port, tangy earthy hops, and a firm bitter finish. this vintage is starting to soften. Over all impression is of a mellow warming incredibly complex ale.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Session: Zymurgy meets Fromagerie

Forgive my French, I get quite carried away on the topic of beer and cheese. I spend my days working as a cheesemonger and duty manager at a busy fresh market and deli. I spend the days ordering, aging, cutting, talking and finally selling cheese. As I’m a beer fanatic naturally it’s the bounty of the grain not the grape which accompanies my cheeseboards in the evenings.

Matching beer with cheese rather than wine actually makes a lot of sense; there is almost always a beer which will suit a cheese better than a wine will. Much of this is due to the complexity that comes from both beer and cheese being fermented foods made of multiple ingredients. Beer and cheese matches can exhibit both comparisons and contrasts while wine often relies on contrast alone, imbalance resulting more often than harmony.

The similarities between beer and cheese go further than just what is experienced in the mouth. Both can trace their origins back to the daily chores of the farmhouse wife, both were produced by Monasteries when they were the only taverns in town, both went through a period of industrialisation and consolidation resulting in consistent, stabilised, bland product, both have experienced a craft revival with increasing interest in characterful living artisan products.

The point about both beer and cheese potentially being living foods is an important one. At my place of work I have what’s called a Fromagerie which is a climate controlled space where white mould cheeses are kept at cellar temperatures with set humidity in order that the cheeses ripen to the correct condition. This is the cheese world’s equivalent to the cellar in the pub. The milk that is used to make cheese from can be pasteurised or used with its natural enzymes intact, after the cheese has been made it can be allowed to ripen or can be stabilised. Just as with beer there is constantly the conflict between the living product and the industrial one.

In February I ran a beer cheese tasting at Regional Wines and Spirits in Wellington with New Zealand’s leading beer journalist Geoff Griggs. It was a roaring success with over 90 people experiencing 7 matches across 3 sessions. Below are some brief descriptions of the matches we presented.

White Mould Cows Cheese matched with Gueuze

Here I presented a specially aged wheel of Ngawi Brie. I aged the wheel in the Fromagerie for about 4 weeks allowing the cheese to develop a radish like sharpness in the rind, a hint of mushroom and a ripe creamy texture. Here the wild funky flavours of the ripe brie were matched with the tangy zesty tart flavours of Boon gueuze. A fruit lambic would work well here aswell.

Soft Goats Cheese matched with German style Weissebier

Te Mata Paki Paki goats brie was matched with Emersons Weissebier. The goats’ cheese exhibits a soft barnyard character with hints of spicy marzipan. The creamy fruity spicyness of the weissebier complemented the spicy marzipan of the cheese while the carbonation lifted the milk fats from the palate. Any pale German style wheat beer and fresh young goats cheese should work.

Traditional cheddar matched with English Best Bitter or Strong Ale

This was the pairing closest to my heart, the classic ploughman’s lunch combination of English ale and cheddar. Here I chose the traditionally aged Barry’s Bay Cheddar which is aged in rounds wrapped in cloth. The cheese develops earthy almost smoky flavours at the rind while a richer creamery character forms at its core. As a result people experienced this cheese differently around the room depending on whether they got cheese from the rind or the core. I paired this cheese with Spitfire from Shepherd Neame, although had it been in stock I would have matched it with Adnams Broadside. The earthy character of the English hops complemented earthy character of the cheddars rind while the nutty richness of the crystal malts complemented the richness of the sweet milk fats

Hard Sheep’s Cheese matched with Strong Mild or Brown Ale

At the tasting I matched Curio Bay sheep’s cheese from Blue River Dairy with Pink Elephants imperial stout Rushin Imperious Stowt. Here we decided to throw a wild card matching in just to see what would happen. In the end the combination did not work but did serve to demonstrate how pairing can go wrong. The Imperial Stout utterly overpowered the subtly nutty moorish cheese. Instead I would suggest matching the cheese with strong mild like Theakston Old Peculier, Black Sheep Riggwelter, or Nethergate Old Growler. The lanolin roast lamb character and nutty notes in the sheep’s cheese would match well with the nutty dark crystal malt notes in the strong mild.

Aged Gouda matched with Maibock

This was the winner of the popular vote for the matches and was one of those serendipitous matches that was thrown together to flesh out the tasting. The cheese was Meyer Old Gouda, one of my all time favourite cheeses. Set up and run by Dutch migrants Meyer produces some very authentic Dutch cheeses in the Waikato south of Auckland. After BrewNZ this year I took a group of the international judges for a tasting of New Zealand cheeses, Derick Walsh the beer style expert who lives in Amsterdam told me there was absolutely no difference between the Meyer Old he was tasting and the cheeses at home. I felt the tasting needed another continental style to match with this continental cheese. Hofbrau Maibock provided everything we could have wanted with this match. The rich sweet tropically fruity notes and sharp aged character of the gouda blended seamlessly with the rich complex German malt profile of the Maibock. It was generally agreed that this was a stunning match.

Washed Rind Trappist Style Cheese matched with Trappist Beer

Here the best offering from New Zealand’s biggest industrial dairy producer Fonterra was matched with one of the most renowned monastic beers in the world. Kapiti Ramara is a soft white mould washed rind cheese which when ripe exudes yeasty funky aromas and flavours balanced with a rich creamy body and salty finish. We matched this with Orvel the Belgian Trappist beer that’s packed with dry brettanomyces horse blanket character. This was a clash of funk with funk each partner standing up tall to the other. I’m a big fan of the cheese and not the beer, together the two were fantastic

Strong Blue Cheese matched with Vintage Barley Wine

Here we reached the apex, the ultimate post meal indulgence, or bedtime treat, the combination of strong sharp blue cheese and rich complex barley wine. For this one we matched Te Mata Port Ahuriri and Thomas Hardy’s Ale. Port Ahuriri is a sharp blue that has a crumbly texture, it is inoculated with a stilton culture and results in a sharp spicy cheese with a rich savoury note. Thomas Hardy’s Ale is one of my all time favourite vintage beers that is exceedingly rich and bitter with layers of malt and fortified fruit flavours. The sweet richness of the ale contrasted beautifully with the sharpness of the cheese while the spicy blue character complemented the tangy fruity notes in the ale.

Lastly I will give you a recipe for an incredibly indulgent recipe. It stems from the English tradition of consuming wheels of Stilton by scraping cheese out rather than cutting it into wedges and reviving the stale cheese by pouring port into it.


1 wheel of blue cheese, sharp or creamy depending on your taste.

1 bottle of Thomas Hardy’s Ale

A handful of walnuts and raisins

Water biscuits.

Take your wheel of cheese and scrap out the core taking care to leave the rind in a bowl shape. In a real bowl take the scraped out cheese and pour in enough beer to moisten the cheese, use a potato masher and mash to a consistent thick paste, add the cheese back into the rind ‘bowl’ serve with water biscuits, walnuts and raisins.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Russian Imperial Stout – the ultimate style?

Russian Imperial Stout is perhaps my all time favourite style. While Ordinary Bitter would top my list, as it’s what I like to drink on a regular basis, Imperial Stout is my favourite style to pull out of the cellar as a night cap with a cheese board or a good book.

The combination of intensive roasty dark malts, high alcohol, fruity esters and a body so stout it has legs there is no better way to end a winters evening.

I have never tasted Courage Russian Imperial Stout, the one example from the past that was brewed up until recent times. Considering the absolute lack of interest in ales of any kind shown by Scottish and Newcastle (the multi-national Courage has become) and dwindling number of bottles in existence it’s unlikely I ever will. Thankfully a number of breweries in the UK and America have revived the style with a wide range of interpretations. I have tasted Imperial Stouts brewed by Sam Smiths, Pitfield, Murry’s Brewing, Australis, Pink Elephant and now Durham. I also brew one myself called ‘Merchant of the Devil’ a recipe I have been tweaking for some years and which gets better with every vintage.

Naturally I was very interested to try Durham’s Temptation Russian Imperial Stout when it arrived on the recent import. I have very much enjoyed there beers in the past. They are repeat visitors to these shores, its interesting that Stonch says it hard to find them in London when they are available in Wellington, the global world.

Durham Temptation 10%abv

Pours a deep black with a wispy white head that disappears quickly. Aroma features big spicy slightly hot character that is hard to put a finger on, as it warms in the glasses it reveals its self as a soft fruity banana ester, woody whiskey notes are also evident. On the palate sweet malt is joined by an almost lollyish warm banana character and again scotch is hinted at. Like a strange cocktail of banana liquor and whiskey. Very interesting beer but lacking the dark malt character that Imperial Stout suggests.

So another interpretation to add to the list, to contrast here are my tasting notes for Pitfield interpretation of the style.

Pitfield 1792 Imperial Stout 9.3%abv

Bottle lovingly carried nearly the length of the globe so I could try a historical Imperial Stout recipe. Poured a deep black with a light thin head. Amazing aroma of sweet cocoa, leather and dried fruit , notably raisins On the palate raisin and leather character continues but is joined by an almost ash like roastyness and a rather strong lactic sour note. A touch warming character gives away its strength but all in all this beer hides its size. There is a striking balance between specialty malt roast character and sour aged character. I would probably prefer to drink an Imperial with more malt sweetness and body but this is still an immensely interesting beer.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Historical Porter?

One of the beers in the shipment that interested me was Old Growler from the Nethergate Brewery in Essex. Old Growler is marketed as a porter brewed from a historical recipe. In his 1987 New World Guide to Beer Michael Jackson wrote
A Journalist once tried to recreate the sound of the jazz cornet-player Buddy Bolden. He wanted to establish whether Bolden could, indeed have been heard across Lake Pontchartrain. The search for the authentic Porter is almost as hopeless.

While outfits like the Durden Park Beer Circle are known to recreate historical beers with apparently fascinating results, few commercial brewers produce convincing glimpses into the past . The issue of what exactly porter was like is vexed and at times controversial, it also depends very much on when in history you are looking at.
Two things can be safely said about early porter

  • It was a vatted beer so aged character was part of it profile
  • it was brewed with wood cured malt, so it probably tasted smoky

Its often said that the beers from Rodenbach offer up the aged character that vatted porter would have shown. Perhaps a blend of a Rauchbier and Rodenbach would give an approximation.

It was with all these themes in my head that I tasted Old Growler. The beer was formulated by Dr Ian Hornsey a microbiologist with an interest in historical brewing. The recipe was adapted from a 1750's Taylor Walker recipe with two versions being brewed one with spices one without. Old Growler is the unspiced version while Umbel Magna has coriander added.

Old Growler 5.5%abv

Pours a dark ruby with an off white head. Aroma features chocolate, caramel, toffee and a woody note. On the palate there is chunky chewy toffee, a touch of chocolate with an oily texture, finishes with a smooth maltyness. Good strong mild in the same ball park as Old Peculier, I’m not convinced this is a porter.

After writing the above tasting notes I came across a Roger Protz article on the beer here where the admission is made that the recipe that Old Growler was based on was in fact for Taylor Walkers mild, not their porter. It seems that Porter was a more marketible brand than Mild when Old Growler was launched.