Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Whisky Review: The Half Century Blend

It is always an excellent post day when a little surprise dram drops onto the doormat, and this one was one of the most special and exclusive we've ever received. After the huge success of their previous two multi-award winning whiskies (The Lost Distilleries Blend and The Golden Age Blend), The Blended Whisky Company have absolutely excelled themselves with their newest limited edition release - The Half-Century Blend (ABV 45.5%).

Every single drop of this whisky has been aged for a minimum of 50 years. The Blended Whisky Company state, "Proving that patience has its rewards, the slow-maturing whiskies contained in The Half-Century Blend were produced in an era where flavour - not forecasts - ruled the roost". So what did we think?

Colour - Rich gold.

Nose - We poured this in the kitchen before taking it through into the living room. The nose is so wonderfully fragrant that the aroma was left wafting through the house, utterly delightful. Pudding-y notes come to the fore, with vanilla custard marrying with light nutmeg spice and a fruity edge akin to maraschino cherries. Beautifully rounded alcohol aroma with a slight salination appearing as the dram warms and opens up, with a sweet tannic nature too.

Palate - Oozing elegance and sophistication, this is a mighty refined little dram. Light, with candied peel and sweet cereals. Evokes the impression of being sat in a warm wooden panelled retiring room, autumnal oak combines with rich cherry, dark chocolate and a hint of fruit cake.

Finish - Incredible depth and complexity, with ever growing and lingering spice. There's something herbal yet delicate in there which reminds us of lavender, with soft hints of tobacco for balance. Lasts for AGES. Expertly put together, a real treat of a dram.

768 bottles of The Half-Century Blend have been produced for this first batch - coming very soon to retail (RRP £599.95). A list of stockists is available here.


Jim & Laura

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Food and Beer with Tempest Brewing Co - A Preview!

Something very exciting is coming up at Mashtun Towers. We are teaming up with our pals up at Tempest Brewing Co to bring you a series of foodie delights to match with a range of their excellent beers.

We've been big fans of the brewery for a good few years now, since the establishment of our lovely local beer shops Beer Central and Hop Hideout meant that their beers became suddenly available in Sheffield. We've been consistently impressed with the output from Tempest, with them nailing every style from juicy IPAs to luscious oyster stouts. In September last year, we were able to visitthe brewery in the Scottish Borders after frequenting The Cobbles, their charming tap room in Kelso, on our way to Edinburgh. The brewery itself is squashed into a relatively low ceilinged building designed for fabric production, somehow fitting the brew kit and bottling plant, and is a powerhouse of a space in an area which until recently hasn't been at the forefront of people's minds when you think of top quality, modern beer production.

More recently, we were able to chat with Shannon (a fellow kitty fan) from the brewery over a few drinks at Leeds International Beer Festival, with the Raspberry Radler and Dios Mio Jalapeno IPA being some of the top beers of the day for us. We soon got on to our other favourite topic aside from beer and cats - food - and so the idea to work with Tempest to create some culinary pairings to go with their amazing range of beers was born!

So without further ado, on to the beers. We don't want to give too much away just yet, but suffice to say we can't WAIT to start playing around and experimenting with flavour combinations. We've got quite a few ideas up our sleeves already - expect influences from New Zealand and Mexico, Scottish charm and a little hint of Yorkshire flair!

Watch out for further details coming soon across our, and Tempest's, social media channels!


L & J

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The Botanist Sheffield Launch Night

We're not usually ones to frequent chain establishments, preferring instead to support our local independents, but when we were invited along to the launch night of the newest addition to Sheffield's bar scene, The Botanist, the look of their cocktail menu alone made us decide it was worth making an exception. The Sheffield branch of the Botanist is the 10th of it's kind across the UK, run by the New Trading Company, and is based across three floors in fashionable Leopold Square.

We received a warm welcome from Ellie and the Botanist team and were ushered straight into the downstairs bar area where Laura dithered over the cocktail menu for far too long, eventually picking the signature "The Botanist" cocktail (vodka, rum and elderflower liqueur) upon the recommendation of the bar staff. Jim went for an All Day IPirinha - a clever twist on a beer cocktail with a miniature caiprinha served alongside a full can of Founders All Day IPA, meaning you could tailor the cocktail to your own exacting requirements. A good idea indeed. Both were presented beautifully and tasted wonderful, the Botanist getting more savoury than sweet as you continued to sip which was pleasantly surprising.

We then went upstairs to be seated. Instantly, the decor absolutely blew us away - it is absolutely stunning. Victoriana blends seamlessly with the floral theme and the entrance to the room, which has been made to resemble a woodland glade, made us feel like we were being transported to somewhere almost ethereal. The focal point of the dining room is a little bandstand, where on the night of our visit acoustic musicians added to the relaxed ambience of the room, even making Shaggy sound classy. Who knew this was a thing?! The venue plans to host "Sunday afternoon sessions" with this sort of feel, alongside evening gigs.

Onto the food! While we perused the cocktail menu (again), we welcomed a little nibble platter of pork crackling to the table, slightly Asian-inspired with chilli and spring onion (and we think soy sauce provided much of the saltiness), deliciously crunchy and served with sweet apple sauce which cut perfectly through the chilli... and can we all please take a moment to appreciate the tiny wheelbarrow?!

Starters arrived swiftly after along with our second cocktails of the evening. The homemade Scotch egg had a lovely runny middle, and came with a piccalli puree - initially a tad perturbing, but absolutely couldn't fault the flavour, tangy and piquant against the well-seasoned sausage meat and egg. The basket of wings was a generous portion, and again served in the most twee (in a good way) fashion in a little wicker picnic basket. The cocktails were just as impressive as the first round - the blackberry and mint julep was refreshing with a good kick from the bourbon, and the rosemary negroni was probably the nicest negroni I've ever had in a bar, with savoury bitterness coupling brilliantly with grapefruit and rosemary. It's worth mentioning that the spirit menu (particularly the gin) is extensive and the emphasis is on using quality, carefully selected options in the cocktails too - no sticking to "house" options here.

We both picked the "Hanging Kebabs" for main - Laura the jerk salmon with sweet potato fries, and Jim the salt and pepper belly pork with regular fries. When these arrived they looked spectacular, although it would have been good to have been informed that the vegetable component of the salmon kebab was sweet potato (this wasn't specified on the menu), as I'd then have picked a different side. It ended up being far too sweet potato heavy meaning I couldn't finish everything. The salmon was well cooked, though, and the jerk seasoning was spicy without being too overpowering. Jim's belly pork was melt in the mouth, but pretty heavy on the salt.

Jim couldn't resist his favourite sticky toffee pudding for dessert, accompanied by a Wild Beer Millionaire, a salted caramel stout which made the rich pudding even more of a treat.
Laura decided to refrain, instead choosing a sweeter cocktail to finish off the meal - a pear and cinnamon Sazerac, a well-balanced, slightly festive and imaginative twist on the classic.

We had been informed towards the start of the evening that staff training was still underway, with new members of staff shadowing more experienced members of the team. We really appreciated being informed of this - service was a tad reserved in places but having this explanation meant that in no way did we see this as a negative.

Overall, a hugely enjoyable evening. Although the main courses weren't quite up to the standard of the starters and nibbles, the lavish but welcoming feel of the venue and the outstanding, elegant cocktails more than made up for it and we'll undoubtedly be back to work our way through more of the menu.

Many thanks to the team for having us down!


Laura and Jim

Monday, 12 September 2016

Pizza School at Craft & Dough

Part of Sheffield's well-respected The Milestone group, Craft & Dough has got tasty pizza nailed. Add to that an improving beer selection and a cracking brunch menu and you're onto a winner. There are three sites across the city, and we were invited along to the Ecclesall Road venue (sure to be massively popular with the incoming student population) for the launch of their Pizza School events.

On a balmy Wednesday evening we strolled down and were greeted with a welcome drink, both going for Abbeydale Brewery's Rango Mango, a refreshing mango Berliner Weisse. The event was held in the upstairs space, with 8 of us in attendance - the perfect number, we all agreed, to allow everyone to get fully stuck in and have a good chat with the chef as well as each other. Our tutor for the evening was Jack, who as well as being a top notch pizza master is also a passionate pastry chef, creating all manner of delicious desserts too (which we'll definitely be going back to sample!).

After a welcome nibble platter featuring an array of cured meats, fresh bread, and chargrilled artichokes, it was onto the work. After being supplied with a very fetching disposable apron each, we combined our flour, oil, water and yeast (all pre-measured separately for us) and got our hands sticky diving in to create the dough. As soon as the mixture was kneaded enough to form a rough ball, it was time to add the salt, followed by a further ten minutes of kneading, provoking a little competition within the group of who could get the springiest dough! It was then revealed that our dough needed 6 hours to rest, which meant we were able to take our homemade version back with us to use another time (ours is happily sat in the freezer ready for a nice night in!) to be replaced by some that Jack had prepared earlier - to the relief of some of the group! After stretching the dough out into something that vaguely resembled a circle, it was time to add the toppings.

We were definitely spoilt for choice - a problem Jim overcame by chucking a bit of everything on. Laura was a tad more selective, going for beef brisket, balsamic onion, and honey roast parsnips with rosemary. Each ingredient had clearly had time and care taken over preparing it, and all meats are sourced locally. As it was such a lovely evening, we were able to cook our pizzas on the terrace (in bad weather, the larger oven in the main kitchen would be used). The only downside to this was that the outdoor oven could only cook one pizza at a time, but with a small group we didn't see this as a major problem, particularly as we were all chatting away throughout, thanks to the relaxed atmosphere created to Jack and the team. And the pizzas were definitely worth the wait!

The Introduction to Pizza courses will be run monthly and cost £20 per person which includes all your ingredients, the tuition of one of Craft and Dough's friendly chefs, and a drink. A lot of fun, a good value event, and one we'd definitely recommend. Just dress prepared to get covered in flour...

Big thanks to Jack and the Craft & Dough team!


Jim and Laura

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Brussels Beer Project and the Good Beer Feast

On the first anniversary of Brussels Beer Project's inaugural brew and the launch of their first Barrel Aged release, we stepped inside what appeared to be an unassuming shop front, to find a highly polished ultra modern brew kit hidden behind a small, modern bar. The first thing to hit us was the enticing smell of pumpkin and mashing malt. Today's brew, a beer to be released for Halloween, comes in as the 29th different beer recipe since the brewery found its home in Dansaert 188, Brussels. 

We arrived pre 11am and quickly found a beer to sip on appropriately named Morning Sunshine (a raspberry and multicereal beer, with a delicious bitter-sweet balance at 5.7%). In the open plan area beside the brew kit, we caught our first glimpse of the beer of the moment, Maoris Tears, a rose wine barrel aged Wakatu hopped saison. With only 800 bottles available, plus a couple of kegs for the bar, we snapped some up to bring home and of course had to try one there and then. The beer prickled with a resinous oak and freshness of limes, dry crispness from the yeast with light phenols joining later on, before being taken over with a robust rose wine character at the end. Unusual, inventive and downright delicious - words which we came to find defined not just this beer, but the whole ethos of the brewery itself. 

Antoine, one of the brewers at BBP, started our brief tour at the goods entrance and malt store, past the mill and a few stacks of wine barrels imbuing their flavour to beer, onto the brew kit and small bottling line. It's clear that being the newest brewery to open in Brussels centre came with considerable space limitations, although these appeared to have quite adequately been overcome - for example, the roof height is low, so fermenters are specially designed to be short and stock of bottles and kegs is all kept off site. The brew kit itself is high-tech with a semi-automated mashing process and a super shiny whirlpool. The brewers are quick to point out that the use of technology, for them, does not detract from their influence on the beer production itself - their focus is on careful recipe development, experimentation and expression of personality. Finally, we moved into the bar, where you sit on repurposed malt sacks next to another, larger, stack of oak barrels behind a glass shutter door. There is something of a cyclical feeling about sitting on the bag that contained the raw ingredients for the drink in front of you, as well the ageing beer to your side. Past Beer, Present Beer, Future Beer.

BBP was brought to life utilising a crowd funding model, allowing locals amongst others to support a modern Belgian brewery wading against the traditional Trappist tide. When the brewery first began, initially as a cuckoo brewery, the first core beer was voted on by those supporting the project. A series of experimental beers were produced and put to the public test - Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta (a coriander and range pale, a paradise seed and juniper saison, cardamom and candy sugar pale and a Belgian IPA respectively) until a victor was left standing. And the Delta IPA, as it is called now, was one of our favourite beers during our trip - a fruity, fragrant IPA with a decent bitterness that cuts through a residual sweetness from malt sugars left behind by the yeast, hopped with Citra and German aroma hop Smaragd (also known as Emerald) - the combination gives the final beer a modern flavour profile that until recently was practically unheard of in Belgian beer. 

At the time of our visit, BBP were also hosting Good Beer Feast, their first beer festival, featuring some great international breweries including UK natives Weird Beard and Anspach & Hobday, as well as Cerveses La Pirata (Barcelona), Kyoto Brewing, Austmann Bryggeri (Norway) and more, plus 'T Verzet, Nanobrasserie de L'Ermitage and Hof Ten Dormaal, fellow Belgian breweries carving a name for themselves under the more progressive banner. The festival used the slogan of "Small Breweries, Big Beer" which comfortably described all those in attendance except perhaps for Stone... 

We had a superb afternoon supping in the sunshine - highlights being Hof Ten Dormaal's Sloe Sour which was amazingly refreshing and aromatic, putting a modern twist on the lambic style, and La Pirata's Black Block imperial stout - just an absolutely sumptuous treat. Overall, it was clear that this one day festival held at the same time as the huge Belgian Beer Weekend was a real statement of intent to provide an alternative to the traditional. And looking round the sea of sunblushed faces of the brewers and drinkers (often one and the same) is hope for the city and country as a whole that the beer scene can continue to expand and develop alongside countries such as America and the UK, as well as retain the long-established and much cherished customs that Belgian beer is so renowned for.


Jim & Laura

Monday, 29 August 2016

BBQ and Brewers Night

North Union showcase at the BBQ Collective

Beer and food pairing events are more often than not top of our must-do list, and the BBQ Collective are definitely hosting some of the best in Sheffield. Each month, a different local brewery joins up with BBQ Collective head honchos Jeff and Mat to carefully and collaboratively consider and create a mouthwatering feast where the beer and food work perfectly together. Last month was the turn of one of the newest additions to Sheffield’s beer scene, North Union, based in a railway arch close to the Wicker in the city centre. Head brewer Iain Kenny presided over the proceedings with panache!

We kicked off the evening with a starter of rare beef tenderloin on homemade black pepper crispbread, with burrata and smoked tomato relish. The drink to accompany was a wonderful Oatmeal Stout at 4.8%, with a twist of being nitrogenated rather than being fused with Co2. The smaller NO2 bubbles meant the drink was smoother and creamier and slipped down an absolute treat. A very good example of the style.

The second course was a green chilli, smoked chicken and sweetcorn chowder served with a chicken skin cracker (we could have eaten a dish of these alone!). Alongside we were given a glass of North Union's core release, the Pale Ale, at 5.5% ABV. The crisp freshness of the beer paired really well and cut through the creamy chowder. Little hot link meatballs were a spicy, tasty treat in this one too!

A little surprise for the third course, as we were all ushered outside with a red cup each, into the sunshine where Iain was waiting with a party keg of his 7% imperial lager, “Shy Bairns Get Nowt”.  To go with the American house party feel, the food pairing was a corn dog, served with a dollop of homemade smoked ketchup and Alabama mustard sauce. Our first ever corn dogs and they were a veritable revelation. Crispy outer, doughy and indulgent corn bread inside, all wrapping up the BBQ Collective's signature spicy Texas hot link sausage. The beer was a little sweet for the tastes of some of the group, but we both loved it and we reckon it's damn near impossible to find any other beer with a more "Sheffield" name!

Smoked pork ribs with a tender delicious pull from the bone were up next, accompanied with Indonesian spices and noodles. While this combination might not be initially the most obvious, the outcome was incredible, and the fresh chilli heat from the noodles seemed to bring more flavour out in the sweet wood smoked meat. To pair, Craft Amber - a refreshing lager at 4.6% with a clean balanced palate and a light floral nose, which worked well to cleanse the palate in between bites and ensured that even though we were four courses in none of the flavours became too heavy.

The final course was shots! Dark chocolate and chilli ice cream with cherries, dark Guatemalan rum and the final beer of Dubbel at 6.5%. All rich and bold, the flavours of the three glasses complemented each other well, with rich malted roastiness from the beer echoing the chocolate notes in the ice cream, with a great boozy hit from the glass of rum. We'd have liked the ice cream to have been a little firmer (it was served almost as a milkshake) but this is a very minor criticism in what was frankly an ace meal all round.

There was one final surprise to come. Beer pong! Laura proved the victor and came home with a case of North Union Pale Ale and a red cup (of course) full of Jeff’s smoked tomatoes, which we had tons of fun experimenting with! We used them in a Korean influenced BBQ sauce, a slow cooked ox ragu, and a triple tomato bruschetta topping.

This was the third BBQ and Brewers Night we’ve attended, and it’s great to see that what could have potentially turned into a restrictive theme has just continued to grow, expand, and push the boundaries. Here’s to many more!


Jim & Laura

Monday, 15 August 2016

Whisky Review: Aberlour 16

We were first introduced to Speyside distillery Aberlour through a Waitrose offer a few years ago, with their no-age statement A'Bunadh being one of the first single malts we invested in. Since then it's always been one of our top "go-to" distilleries, with the 10-year being a regular feature on our whisky shelf, so when we spied it's older sister at Bakewell's excellent whisky shop The Wee Dram we couldn't resist. The 16-year is double cask matured in traditional oak and sherry, and is bottled at 40% ABV.

Colour: Rich copper.

Nose: Creamy, with hints of raisin from the sherry cask balanced by a fresh woody characteristic from the oak. The aroma deepens as the dram opens up, giving off an inviting edge of sugary sweet mocha. Given the ABV, we chose not to add water.

Palate: Very well balanced, with the two woods complementing each other and providing delicate harmony in the dram. Nutty, with flavours of almond imparting a marzipan character but without overwhelming sweetness. A honeyed smoothness envelops the tongue as you drink.

Finish: Sweet maltiness and oodles more honey linger on.