Mashtun and Meow

Monday, 9 November 2015

Beer and food pairing: Weird Beard Defacer and Pad Thai

It's no secret that we love going out to eat and drink, but sometimes it's just as nice to stay in and spend some time really thinking about and taking care over a meal. We often share a bottle of beer over tea, so decided that for some of the special brews lurking in our cellar we'd try to create some food which would complement them perfectly and recreate the dining out experience at home.

For our first foray into beer and food pairing, we chose Weird Beard's Defacer. Brewed using the distinctive Sorachi Ace hop (which just so happens to be Laura's favourite), this is a triple IPA weighing in at a mighty 11.1% and is also Weird Beard's 200th brew. Seeing as the ABV is akin to a bottle of wine, we thought it would be the perfect guinea pig for our experiment.

Sorachi Ace is well known for having prominent lemon and coconut notes alongside an interesting dill-y characteristic. We guessed that these qualities would pair perfectly alongside Thai food, so we decided to make a Pad Thai using king prawns marinated in coconut milk, turkey and Thai basil. We added baby sweetcorn and sugar snap peas (plus a healthy dose of fresh chilli), then a good squeeze of lime juice and a drizzle of barrel aged soy sauce (which just FYI is from Oisoi, a wonderful new addition to Sheffield's food shops) over the top and we were good to go.

The beer itself was phenomenal - a huge tropical aroma burst from the bottle immediately upon opening, and the expected Sorachi punch was dominant. Piney, bold and bitter, it worked brilliantly alongside the spicy food, with the zesty lime juice cutting through for balance and complementing the citrus notes in the beer.

Conclusion: WAY better than a Sauvignon Blanc.



Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Brewpubs in the Toon!

Earlier this autumn, we embarked on an 800-mile round trip of the north. First stop on this little tour was Newcastle - a city we've only visited once before about three years ago, with the sole purpose of going to a gig, so we'd not had the chance the check out the beer scene. With some exciting new breweries popping up around there (we're talking about you, Northern Alchemy), and having heard very good things about their craft beer pubs, we thought it would be a worthy destination for the first night of our beery holiday. Correct we were to think so.

Despite wandering into Newcastle city centre from Gateshead with no idea where we were really going, we managed to stumble straight into the Hop & Cleaver. From outside, it looked a little bit like a fairly standard BBQ joint, but a promising door step lured us in and it was instantly obvious that despite making a big thing about doing top notch smoked food (and rightfully so, more on that in a moment), they make an even bigger thing about their beer. A very friendly barman directed us through the many rooms of the cavernous building to have a look at their on-site brewery - small, but perfectly maintained. We opted for a couple of their brews - the Kiwi pale ale, and the Melon Head. The Kiwi pale ale was nice, if a little forgettable, but the Melon Head was outstanding - vibrant melon flavour coupled with a well-rounded hop character: a really unusual, imaginative brew.

Despite being very tempted by the Hop & Cleaver menu, rather than a full meal, we decided to have snacks and starters in each place we visited to make the most of our trip. We eventually plumped for the rib tips, which were the perfect combination of spicy and smoky. They came smothered in homemade BBQ sauce, and more sauces were available on the table too to suit a range of tastes. This was just one example of the attention to detail which was apparent in every single aspect of the way the Hop & Cleaver operates - even down to the door handles made from knife sharpening steels. Well themed yet understated, this would definitely be somewhere we'd regularly frequent if we were more local. We washed our rib tips down with the always excellent Beavertown Gamma Ray before moving on.

We headed just a short distance round the corner to the Bridge Tavern - another brewpub - on the recommendation of not only our Hartlepool-hailing brewer pal and colleague Dave but also the Hop & Cleaver staff (always nice to see local businesses supporting each other in this way). Both of the beers we chose first were ace. Jim went for Wylam Jakehead IPA, which had a massive body at 6.3% and felt almost like a barley wine. Laura chose Mango and Passionfruit Pale, a collaboration from Squawk and Track breweries, which was outrageously fruity and definitely did what it said on the tin! Beer snacks this time were a slightly odd combination of pickled eggs and oysters - Laura's first taste of both! The oysters were battered in the house TavernAle beer and served in their shell, which had been filled with a sharp and creamy tartare sauce. They were awesome. To finish, we picked a beast of a brew - Five Times Madder Tom, a collaboration between Moor, Arbor, Harbour, Beavertown and Hanging Bat - busy brewday that must have been! An 8% DIPA, this was chock full of lovely malty and resinous notes. Really complex with a pleasantly dry finish. Top marks!


Jim and Laura

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Autumn menu launch: Forum, Sheffield

The Forum in Sheffield, part of the newly renamed True North Brew Co, had tended to fade into the background a little alongside it's sister venues, with us more likely to choose to eat and drink at The Broadfield or The Old House. However, having received an invitation from manager Miles (formerly of the Broadfield) to try out their revamped Autumn menu, and having had a frankly awesome evening doing so, it's abundantly clear that we were being unfair to True North's flagship venue.

We arrived at 7pm and were greeted by Miles himself (who's traded in his Broadfield beard for a trendy city centre moustache, with great pizazz) and Forum's take on an Aperol spritz, adding prosecco and grapefruit bitters. This was a pleasantly refreshing and lightly bittered autumnal cocktail which got the evening off to a great start. Whilst we sipped on these, executive chef Andy Burns introduced the menu to us. It was quite a surprise (the good kind!) to discover that the menu is themed around a fusion of traditional British dishes and Korean fare, taking inspiration from the increasingly popular street food festivals which have sprung up all over the country in the past couple of years. Andy explained that he wanted to keep the "hand food" sort of style which has always worked so well at the Forum, whilst juxtaposing familiar menu items with something a bit more adventurous. The result is a modern, exciting menu which definitely offers something different to our local scene.

The first dishes presented to us were the spicy sriracha hummus with pitta chips, baby back ribs with a honey and sesame seed marinade, and a gorgeously tangy blue cheese rarebit fondue served with hearty slices of sourdough (all £3.95 or 3 for £10). Following this were two types of steamed buns - kimchi pork belly, and bulgogi beef (also in the same 3 for £10 deal). These were Laura's favourite offering of the night - both absolutely bursting with flavour, aromatic, wonderfully seasoned, and the soft steamed buns were a delight to eat. This sharing food style of starters worked really well and I'd say for a group of four that three dishes would be just right to nibble on before main courses.

Next up was the second cocktail of the evening - a soju daiquiri made with muddled sweet potato, lime and agave syrup. Now this sounded slightly odd, but was a revelation... tasting just like sherbet lemons!

 Onto the mains, where firstly we sampled the pork tomahawk steak (£9.95) - the meat was wonderfully cooked and beautifully succulent, with the soy and ginger glaze giving just the right balance of salty and sharp sweetness. This was served with skinny house fries and roasted vine tomatoes, which were both good accompaniments.

The food just kept on coming! The chicken and tofu skewers and Korean pork belly burrito (all £8.50) were both familiar enough to have all-round appeal, whilst offering a tasty twist too. We both really enjoyed mini versions of the classic beef burger - the meat is sourced from one of our favourite local suppliers, Mr Pickles, which demonstrates the Forum kitchen's commitment to quality. These were served on buttermilk buns from Seven Hills Bakery, another Sheffield gem. We also tried the cod pakora, which were a great idea, but a little underseasoned on this occasion. Lastly was the shaved bulgogi beef - thinner strips of the same flavoured meat as those spectacular steamed buns. Bulgogi is a new one on us - apparently it means "fire meat" - a very pleasing concept, I'm sure you will agree. It did not disappoint - tender to the point of falling apart in the mouth, with a rich and fruity flavour from the marinade and an almost caramelised characteristic from the traditional grilling techniques used to cook it.

Finally, we reached desserts. The two of us shared a Hotteok - a Korean style filled pancake with seeds, which was almost crumpetty (definitely a word), served with Yee Kwan coconut and chocolate ice cream. Despite being absolutely stuffed, we also couldn't resist trying the deep fried ice cream sandwich, which was like a classy seaside donut! There were also salted rolo brownies to try, which the rest of the table vouched for as delicious, but we really couldn't fit one in.

We ended the evening with our third and final cocktail, which was a inventive take on a whisky sour. Peaty, smoky Bowmore 12 and delicately punchy St Germain elderflower liqueur combined with lemon to produce the perfect palate cleanser. Although the Islay whisky wasn't to everyone's taste, the balance was just right and it didn't overpower. A good example of how the Forum's cocktail menu, like True North's other venues, combines classic recipes with exciting new elements, resulting in a range of drinks that is quite unique. A winner in our book!

Action shot!
We had a fantastic evening all round and it was great to catch up with Sheffield blogging friends old and new! Despite the absolute FEAST we were presented with, there's still plenty of dishes we'd love to try (crispy pigs ears with a blue cheese dipping sauce, HELLO... plus the brunch menu looks delicious), so we'll definitely be back. Big thanks to Miles, Andy and the rest of the Forum team!


Laura & Jim

Saturday, 3 October 2015

A Birthday Brewdog Tour

We love a bit of a roadtrip every now and again, and having been kindly invited up to the Brewdog brewery by malt master Angelos (who we first met at this excellent homebrew competition), Jim decided that a 400 mile journey up to Ellon would be a great way to spend his birthday. and frankly the only way to travel to a craft beer Mecca would be to make the quasi-religious Hajj via the various Brewdog bars on the pilgrimage.

Seeing as it's rather a long way from Sheffield, we made a proper long weekend of it, calling at as many Brewdog bars as we could on the way, just to stick with a bit of a theme! Obviously we also found many more fantastic places on our travels... look out for another post in the near future for these.

Our plan was to begin on home soil in Brewdog Sheffield, before heading up to Newcastle and then on to Edinburgh, with an overnight stay in each city, then on to Aberdeen and finally the Big Dog - the brewery itself in Ellon. The bars all follow a similar mould... always slightly industrial, with booths, matte black paint and walls clad in what can surely only be made from a sports hall floor. With slightly different offerings from Stone, Mikkeller and Boon or Weihenstephan on the guest lines and at least eight of the host beers on the other taps, there is always a beer for everyone. Whilst the beer list and venues are similar, it's the staff that set each apart and give the bars a distinctive character. Every single person we spoke to behind the bar was helpful, knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and polite enough to seem interested in our slightly odd quest!

Clockwise from top left: Brewdog Newcastle, Dundee, Aberdeen and Edinburgh
En route to Aberdeen, we decided to add in a somewhat impromptu trip to Dundee, where the Royal Exchange building plays host to the ornate bar. Due to it being only part way through our drive, as we sat twiddling our thumbs for the lunchtime opening we drew straws for the designated driver. As the bar opened, Laura opted for a Fritz-Limo apple juice. Jim clutching the figurative long straw more than made up for this, indulging in the 8% Molotov Lite from Evil Twin. For the birthday boy, this was the perfect opener to the proceedings, light, floral and a nice accompaniment to the beef and Five AM Saint pie. Moving on to Stone - Points Unknown, another ludicrously strong pre-afternoon beer in the form of a Belgian style tripel at 9.5%, which has been barrel aged in wine and tequila before being blended with a delightfully fresh West Coast DIPA, to form an awesomely rounded, hoppy, slightly tart, massively boozy and all round stunning drink.

By Monday it's definitely fair to say we were adequately warmed up to complete our pilgrimage to the brewery itself, along with the Dogtap there. Based in Ellon, a half hour bus journey north of Aberdeen, it is absolutely ENORMOUS and still clearly in the process of rapid growth.

Upon arriving at the brewery, we were greeted by Angelos who was to be our guide and beer guru for the afternoon. The bar attached to the brewery follows the same pattern as the rest, except with the reflective majesty of the pilot kit at one end. As we moved to through to the large building behind the bar, wandering through a maze of impossibly shiny stainless steel, we began to see the scale of what the Brewdog machine has become, with three massive fermenting vessels in the centre of the building and a £3million bottling plant taking up around half of the space of the main warehouse.

We were firstly shown the four main brewing vessels (mashtun, lautertun, kettle and whirlpool) - a setup that allows 4 different beers to be on the go simultaneously and up to 10 brews a day to be produced. Our tour continued along to conditioning tanks and the dry hopping stage of the process, where we were lucky enough to have a taste of the super chilled and ridiculously fresh beers. The highlights were the legendary Punk IPA, with an outrageously juicy hop character, and Tokyo - at around 17% and -1 degrees, it was practically a syrup, fruity, sticky and downright delicious. Black Eyed King, which becomes the base of the "Dog" series of beers, was also phenomenal. Many of the fermenting vessels are situated outside the brewery building itself... with 15 that can contain 800 hectolitres, it's not hard to imagine why. The sheer scale of absolutely everything just blew us away... despite being familiar with many a brewery, we'd truly never seen anything like it. Again, the enthusiasm of those working there was obvious, and the whole building felt a bit like a beehive, everyone working busily as a team and the air filled with an electric innovation. With their recent milestone of £10million through crowd funding, we will no doubt see many more exciting things coming from this remote corner of Scotland.

After a pit stop in the tap room - a Five AM Saint for Jim, and a stunning sour cherry pilot brew for Laura, it was time to get the bus back to Aberdeen and grab a good night's kip ready for the 7 hour drive home the following day. Totally worth it.



Monday, 31 August 2015

Dispense with the Gimmicks

Earlier this week, Buxton Brewery announced they will no longer be producing cask beer unless it's for their brewery tap house, citing concerns over cask loss and quality control, and overall a market that doesn't take kindly to more expensive casks of beer. This is a big step for a brewery to make and an interesting statement, to cut out what is traditionally the backbone of pretty much every UK brewery in terms of sales.

There are other breweries taking similar steps although not as far as disregarding casks altogether, but selling beer through different dispense such as keg, bottle and more recently can. The most notable of these is probably Beavertown, but with Magic Rock equipping their new brewery in Huddersfield with a canning line they don't seem to be far off the pace. Whilst these techniques of dispense can be all well and good, I am starting to struggle justifying them as the best thing for the beer (which is at the end of the day what really matters). For myself, whilst initially I was dismayed at the concept of drinking from a can, my discountenance soon dissipated after a can of Roosters Baby Faced Assassin, which is now one of my favourite beers. After my gateway Assassin I quickly drank through Beavertowns, with on the whole positive results, 8 Ball Rye and Neck Oil being the standout options. But... then there is Smog Rocket, a beer which I know should be a tremendous beer in taste, but for me everything else was lacking. The body was a little thin and a lot of what should've been a big smoke element was amiss. This is in contrast to the all round bolder experience gained from drinking this beer on cask (sadly a much rarer opportunity) which is surely the way the brewery intended it to taste... why, then, produce a poorer alternative of the same beer by canning it? Don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad in can, just not quite right.

There are reportedly three new breweries opening every week in the UK at the moment and because of this each has to do their utmost to stand out from the continually growing roster of newbies. A new offering to the Sheffield market, North Union, has taken the decision to produce only keg and bottle, recognising that in producing cask beer in a city with coming up to twenty breweries it would be difficult to offer anything new to the market. This for me is a good example of a brewery unwilling to take part in what Buxton have highlighted as another factor in their caskless operation, "a depressed cask market place flooded with poor to average cask beer, sold cheap." Breweries desperate to sell their beer often offer much lower prices for their casks, causing some publicans to set unrealistic price boundaries for their cask purchases, ultimately resulting in poorer choice and lower quality for the drinker at the bar. As well as this, a landlord or cellar manager needs no qualifications, experience or knowledge to run a pub. You can get a pint of poorly kept cask beer that is in no way representative of how the product left the brewery stores. This lack of control over cask is also cited by Buxton as a factor in their recent decision, whilst keg beer leaves the brewery in much the same condition as it is served. But a well maintained cellar and competently kept casks for me will almost always outstrip that of the quality of other dispense methods.

The US is a big part of both the craft keg and canning market - in both respects they are at least 20 years ahead of us, and therefore can consistently rely on their own techniques and experience. By contrast, jumping in head first into the premise of canning and keg will not always end with success. As we see more breweries trying to break into the market, we are going to see hits and I fear a lot more misses in terms of how beer is provided to the consumer. Let's also not forget that all this is against the decree of CAMRA, still a powerful driver of opinion for a good portion of beer drinkers. I just hope that we can work through what could be a tumultuous time for the industry and iron out some of the lower quality canning techniques before it becomes too unreliable, which may lead to consumer mistrust. But still at the heart of everything we need to be looking at what is best for each beer, rather than a blanket approach to an entire range.

But for now, I'm going to retire with a Northern Monk Strannik... in bottle... at room temperature.



Thursday, 20 August 2015

Buxton Tap House

An impromptu camping trip to the peaks brought us merrily to Buxton - and at a great time too. You might have noticed we're big fans of Buxton Brewery (you can find our review of Battle Horse here, and see how Two Ton IPA got our anniversary off to a cracking start here) and a visit to their homeland was long overdue. Our trip fortuitously coincided with a tap takeover from Stockholm's finest, Omnipollo, which was truly something to behold - featuring twelve of some of the most outlandish gypsy brews we've ever come across, served both via cask and keg, in the low ceilinged and cosily decorated snug of the Buxton Tap.

Our opening round was of a glass of Magic #4.21 and Magic #90,000, the former a raspberry and vanilla smoothie IPA and the latter made with blueberry, pecan, almond and again vanilla. Both of these beers were richened and emboldened with lactose, giving body to the fresh fruitiness of the berries. The raspberry IPA was a lip smacker at every sip, and the blueberry version, whilst the nuttiness was not overly pronounced, was bold and tart with fruitiness and had an inviting cheesecake-style aroma.

To follow we had Bianca (6%), surely the first (and perhaps only!) mango lassi gose. Mango puree provided a tropical hit, with lactose to add to the body, and salt which prevented everything from being too sickly. Fairly odd, but an interesting and tasty beverage. To accompany this, Mr. M had the similarly bonkers-sounding protein shake IIPA, reportedly made with pure protein, which gave a chewiness to the beer that balanced really well with the hop bitterness. Who knew 8% double IPAs worked so well with Ovaltine flavours?!

It was at this point that we intended to buy some of the food that had been specifically curated for the takeover event, but as we reached 3 o'clock the menus were all removed from the table by a surly looking gent, who assured us that it was our mistake when we said the sign outside suggested food was available all day. Obviously if a chef wants a break in the quieter middle period of the afternoon there's nothing wrong with that whatsoever, but we were a little taken aback by the rude treatment and (incorrect) information we received, and left in a bit of a hungry huff. EXHIBIT A.

However a chip butty from the local chippy followed by a pint of the always outstanding Titanic Plum Porter at the Cheshire Cheese down the road soon alleviated our disgruntlement, and we returned back to the Tap to be greeted by a new set of staff behind the bar - pleased to report these were all friendly and helpful. Perhaps the man from earlier was just hungry too...

Upon our return, menus had been placed back on the table, so we ordered a selection of the platters of the smoked food and a pair of half pints and retreated to conquer the rest of the spectacular beer. Ham hock terrine accompanied with a tomato salsa soon arrived, along with smoked duck with wilted spinach and garlic. On the side we opted for a chilli and garlic mac & cheese. 

The food went down beautifully with a couple of Buxton beers - the Rednik stout's light smoky nature balanced with the rest of the malt and paired really nicely with the ham hock, and Axe Edge IPA, who's hop character features Amarillo, Citra and Nelson Sauvin, worked well to cut through some of the fattiness of the duck.

Then we came to the main reason we travelled the hour from Sheffield... last year's Buxton and Omnipollo Rainbow Project collaboration, a peanut butter biscuit stout... Yellow Belly.

We're talking Yellow Belly not just on keg, not even just a barrel aged version with vanilla beans, cocoa nibs and lactose on cask, but also to top that all off a Yellow Belly candied bacon toffee cheesecake. This triumvirate of dark, sticky luxuriousness was just spectacular. With each iteration offering a different perspective, this was a treat that literally brought tears to Mrs M's eyes. The cask "Yellow Belly Sunday" at 12% was enormously rich and boozy, and tasted almost like there had been a shot of bourbon sneaked into the glass, with a smooth creamy sweetness that came through at the end. The standard version at a lowly 11%, served on keg, had an odd but pleasant bubbling sensation across the tongue from the carbonation, which soon died as the thickness of the almost treacle textured beer grew. In both versions, the lightly salted nut character of peanut butter came through intensely with a delicate biscuit maltiness. The cheesecake just exacerbated all of this deliciousness in spades - and we are now firmly of the opinion that all puddings should come with a liberal sprinkling of candied meat. Ridiculously good - this is one of the few colossally hyped beers that went further than just meeting our expectations and blew them out of the water.  

Having drunk our way through the majority of the beer board (bettered by our good beery pal Steve, who managed to sample them all... reckon Buxton should do medals for this) it was time for a stumble back to the tent ready for tomorrow's adventures with a Derbyshire Wayfarer.



Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Magic Rock Tap, Huddersfield

We've been fans of Magic Rock beers for quite some time, and they're one of those that we always make a beeline for at the bar - their wonderfully juicy West Coast Pale Ale, High Wire (5.5%) is one of Laura's firm favourites (and luckily enough it's frequently available at one of our locals, the Rutland Arms) - and they're also making quite a name for themselves with some really special brews. We've been chomping at the bit to get to their brewery tap in Huddersfield since it opened in June this year, and finally made the trip through the glorious Yorkshire countryside last weekend.

We started off with something pretty light, Dancing Bear - a steam beer style pilsner weighing in at 4.5%. Refreshing and grassy, it was certainly a welcome opening act.

Next up was Big Top - an India Red Ale with humongous hop flavours, massively aromatic and tropical at 7.4%. Alongside this we grabbed ourselves a burger from Fat Hippo, usually Newcastle based but with a nifty little Burger Bar which travels around the country. The Tap invites along different food vendors each weekend, meaning there's always something different to try, and we were mightily impressed by the offering this week. We both picked the PB&J burger - succulent beef, perfectly cooked to order, topped with peanut butter and bacon jam, which may now be our new favourite condiment (a bold claim for a couple who have designated condiment shelves in both the cupboard and the fridge). Fat Hippo will be in Sheffield at the next Peddler market in October and we'd definitely recommend them to anyone in the area.

After filling our bellies, we were treated to a quick look around the new brewery itself, which has doubled production capacity for Magic Rock. The first brew had taken place just the day before, so everything was very shiny and new... we even got a sneak peek at the new canning line, which has now been officially announced! Watch this space...

Now then. Those really special brews we mentioned at the beginning of this post? Here goes. Firstly was Dark Arts stout - cocoa nib edition (6%), which had been aged in bourbon barrels for two years with cocoa nibs and vanilla added for the last few months. The aroma was incredible, intensely chocolatey and oh so inviting. On the palate was creamy chocolate with a dry pure cocoa backbone which prevented the beer from becoming cloying, and the vanilla coming through to enhance the flavours imparted by the barrel. As well as this treat, we also enormously enjoyed the Pedro Ximenez barrel aged Bearded Lady, a 10.5% imperial stout. Sumptuously sticky, it was rich with raisins and treacle whilst retaining a great level of balance, and was just a perfect example of just how good a barrel aged beer can be.

The whole experience of drinking at the Magic Rock Tap was just a delight - the staff were all friendly and keen to share their extensive knowledge of the beers on offer, the atmosphere and decor give you a great feel for what the brewery is all about, and everything is achingly "craft" without being in any way twattishly pretentious. A new favourite and definitely not to be missed!