Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog: 2016

Friday, 23 December 2016

Golden Pints 2016

We've had some amazing beery experiences during 2016 - from our own collaboration with Bad Seed Brewery, to brewery-led trips to Colorado, Bristol and Brussels, a rising standard across our hometown, Sheffield, and some excellent beer consumed simply at home. It's also been the first full year we've spent working in the brewing trade, and it is truly the most friendly, rewarding and exciting industry to be a part of. Here are some of our highlights...

Best UK Cask

Winner: Torrside - Candlewick. Sometimes, all you need is something classic, and this stout from Torrside is just exemplary of the style. Everything we've tried from these guys has been Very Good or better, and they're lovely chaps to boot. Looking forward to seeing more from them in 2017.

Best UK Keg

Winner: Buxton - Red Raspberry Rye (double raspberry edition). Drank at Port Street Beer House, this was a magnificent end to a day out at Indy Man.

Best UK Bottle/Can

Winner: Buxton - Axe Edge. Complex, juicy and consistently brilliant.
Honourable mention: Chorlton - Amarillo Sour. Another go-to and a staple in our fridge.

Best Overseas Draft

Winner: Crooked Stave - Silly Cybies. A barrel aged raspberry sour, bursting with fruity flavour, exploding across the palate, and a body that leaves your mouth literally watering in need of more. Simply beautiful. Gutted that this doesn't seem to be one of the Crooked Stave releases that makes it across the pond.
Honourable mention: Lervig - Sippin' into Darkness. The top beer of IndyMan, described to us as "liquid Double Decker", and we can't say it better ourselves. LUSCIOUS.

Best Overseas Bottled 

Winner: Brussels Beer Project - Delta. A delicately balanced light beer reminiscent of an APA but with a quintessential Belgian twang of fruity esters, heightened by a classically American dry hop hit.
Honourable mention: Yeastie Boys - Xerrex. Because obnoxious in beer sometimes is needed.

Best Collaboration Brew 

Winner: Buxton/Lervig - Trolltunga. We've both thoroughly enjoyed this on keg and in bottle, on numerous occasions. Astoundingly refreshing and delightfully tart. Love the artwork, too.

Best Branding 

Winner: Mad Hatter - colourful, distinctive, just on the cute side of "a bit weird". Inspired!

Best UK Brewery 

Winner: Hawkshead. In our eyes, they've done no wrong this year. Their cask output is consistent and maintains their appeal to a more traditional local market, but in keg and bottle they've pushed the boundaries of what beer can be. Chuckleberry Sour and Tonka have made a welcome return, and new beers such as their Tiramisu stout have been some of the best we've drank all year. Bravo!
Honourable mention: Buxton. Similarly to Hawkshead, they manage to nail traditional styles at the same time as coming up with innovative and delicious beers. Pipped into second place simply as we haven't seen as many new releases from them this year as we'd have liked.

Best Overseas Brewery

Winner: This was a toughie, but we've gone for To Øl, largely for their range of dry hopped sours. Always interesting, often challenging, and largely delicious.
Honourable mentions: Omnipollo, New Belgium, Cantillon.

Pub/Bar of the year

Winner: Small Bar, Bristol. One of those places that you'd quite happily never leave.

Best Taproom

This is an additional award we wanted to add in here simply because we've had so many incredible experiences this year. January witnessed a two week long trip to Colorado, and the taproom game over there was just ridiculously good. From the mammoth machines of Odell, Oskar Blues and New Belgium (bigger read here), to cosy barrel rooms at Funkwerks and Great Divide, delightfully "pubby" afternoons spent at Equinox and Left Hand and being generally spoilt at Crooked Stave (more on that here), it's been very difficult to choose a favourite. Shits all over anything we have in this country (although we know there are many people coming close and we appreciate those efforts... plus we haven't been to Wylam yet and we have HIGH HOPES).
Winner: Black Bottle Brewery, Fort Collins - for it's warmth, friendliness, zaniness, complete openness to every single member of society, and stonkingly massive range of some of the tastiest beers we've ever drank. Also bottomless nachos. Utter perfection. (You can read more here if you feel so inclined).
Honourable mention: Brussels Beer Project, Brussels - proof that you don't have to do anything fancy to have a great space. We wrote more on this too.

Best Beer Event

Winner: Rainbow Project launch at Magic Rock Tap. We volunteered on the bar here and were made treated like one (well, two) of the team. Great beer, good vibes, top day all round.
Honourable mention: Karkli-Fest. A day in beautiful settings with Karkli's head honcho Kumar and his family, who are quite frankly some of the loveliest and most welcoming people we've ever met. Food, drink and company were all exceptional and it was one of those days where you come home feeling so lucky to be a part of this industry.

Online Bottle Retailer

N/A for us, as we are lucky enough to have three brilliant bottle shops within walking distance from our house (shout outs to Hop Hideout, Beer Central and Turners!)

Best Beer Snack

Winner: Karkli - crunchy, twirly, sticks of spicy joy.
Honourable mention: Smofo - a Sheffield based company making the best pork scratchings IN THE WORLD.

Twitter Personality of the Year

Winner: @ThaBearded1 aka Carl of Twisted Barrel. Hilarious, informative, beard nearly as good as Jim's and not bad in real life either ;) bonus point for having a cute bunny.

Cheers, all... here's to 2017!

Jim & Laura

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Sheffield Cookbook: Second Helpings

The second release of the Sheffield Cookbook, from Meze Publishing, is out now just in time for Christmas, and a veritable plethora of Sheffield's restaurants, cafe and pubs are showcasing their top recipes within. Now we're big fans of the first book, and have the Nottingham version too, and this second edition is MASSIVE... proof that Sheffield has a thriving and vibrant foodie scene!

Being the beery types that we are, one of the things that we first noticed about this book is that Sheffield breweries and pubs are very well represented. Abbeydale Brewery is represented by their pub, The Rising Sun in Nether Green, who's kitchen team have whipped up a rolled lamb breast dish with crispy lamb neck bon bons, using Abbeydale's Daily Bread (we have since been to the Rising Sun to taste this dish and can absolutely vouch for it's deliciousness!).

Sentinel Brewery have created a pork and black pudding Scotch egg (which has malt in the coating!), served with brown sauce made from brewer's wort - a really interesting way to incorporate beer and the brewing process into food!

If you're more of a dessert person, one of our favourite shops, Beer Central, has submitted a chocolate cake recipe using Thornbridge Brewery's sumptuous Cocoa Wonderland stout. Thornbridge's best bitter, Lord Marples, is also represented by the Stag's Head pub (which forms part of the Thornbridge portfolio) who use it as a braising liquor for their venison shank.

The recipes are mainly targeted towards pretty ambitious home cooking, but generally use ingredients that are easy to get hold of, making the book perfect for those who like a bit of a challenge in the kitchen. For example, the ham hock ballotine with textures of apple from Thyme Cafe is an excellent mix of simple flavour combinations, incorporating a more technical way of cooking. We're also dying to have a go at one of our absolute favourite dishes - Rico from the Rutland Arms has shared his secrets on how to recreate his INCREDIBLE cod dish, which comprises beautiful roasted fish with arroz nigre (a risotto type dish made with squid ink), braised octopus in garlic and smoked paprika XO emulsion. We always make a beeline for the Rutland whenever we spy this on the specials menu, and the recipe is detailed and informative enough that we have confidence we can at least have a go at doing the dish a bit of justice (we will report back in due course!).

So much deliciousness in every single one of it's 318 pages. Bravo, Sheffield Cookbook!


Jim and Laura

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Brewtown Tours

We were recently invited on a little adventure round York on one of the very first ever trips run by Brewtown Tours - an all new brewery tour experience run by ale enthusiast Mark Stredwick.

We met up at the York Tap to start the tour, which is the perfect convenient location for both locals and those travelling in (and means you can grab a pre-tour beer should you feel so inclined!). A picturesque 40 minute drive out through the suburbs to the east of York, whilst discussing our first, last, and favourite beers, took us to our first destination of the day, Half Moon Brewery. Located in an old blacksmith's forge, Mark quite appropriately described Half Moon as a micro-micro... a small yet perfectly formed 5 barrel plant run by Tony and Jackie Rogers.

The beers produced by this tiny brewery are big hits with local country pubs and are starting to gain headway in the venues of the cities nearby. An entertaining introduction to the brewing process was provided by Tony, followed by a mini food and beer pairing showcasing other local producers led by sensory consultant Jo Menneer. We both thoroughly enjoyed the F'Hops Sake golden ale (3.9%) paired with Mounfield's "hogg roast" herby pork sausage! As we boarded back onto the comfy Brewtown minibus, we were all given a goodie bag containing a bottle of Half Moon beer along with a block of St Helen's farm goat's cheese and Guppy's chocolate from the pairing, which was a really lovely touch.

The next stop a short drive later was The Hop Studio, the brewery of the three on today's itinerary that we were most familiar with. Famous for their hop forward pale beers, The Hop Studio are a staple on many a bar around Yorkshire since their inception in 2012. Clutching a glass of their Beerjolais, we toured the mezzanine level which has been recently converted into a bar, but houses the original malt store, auger and cold liquor tanks. The tour continued downstairs with a look at the wood clad brew system and fermentation room, where their process was described eloquently and passionately by founder Dave Shaw. On our return to the bar we tried our favourite beer of the day, a limited release of a beer simply called "Chocolat" - a white chocolate stout that sings of vanilla from the bourbon barrel it was aged in.

Finally, we pulled up at relative newcomers to the York brewery scene, Ainsty Ales, just as it was getting dark. Another beautiful location, situated in a barn overlooking both the farm and field, which will eventually be used to grow a small hop crop to be used in the brew house in a few years time. We were given a tour of the brand spanking brewhouse by head brewer Alan Hardie - previously of York Brewery - and were treated to some tastings of their core releases, of which the delighfully named golden ale Wankled Waggoner (try saying that after a few pints!) was the one we enjoyed the most. The tasting room there is not quite yet up and running, but it's sure to be a fantastic space in the near future - a quirky, rural bar with great potential.

Brewtown Tours currently offers two different routes around York (with at least a third in the pipeline) as well as a tour around Leeds. We had a relaxed yet informative day and thoroughly enjoyed our experience. It was great to get out into the suburbs and visit places that on a trip to York we would never usually think to travel to, but which were all well worth the journey... especially when being chauffeured in style!


Jim and Laura

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Passionfruit Meringue Pie

When Shannon of Tempest Brewing Co. first approached us about producing a week long beer and food pairing with a whole array of their delicious beers, our minds raced with ideas.

Having visited their tap and brewery in September 2015, we were extremely impressed by the range and quality of their beers and couldn't wait to get experimenting. 

You can see the variety of dishes we came up with here... and the passionfruit meringue pie we made worked so well with the delicious Mango Berlinner that we thought we'd better share the recipe for those of you fond of a sour beer! Sour beers work really well with something sweet to balance... in this case, passionfruit and mango are a match made in heaven. The sweetness of the meringue cuts through the gentle sourness of the beer, whilst the homemade curd zings along in tune with it.

Any citrus fruit will work here, so feel free to adjust the recipe accordingly depending on what you're pairing it with. Obviously lemons and limes produce more juice than a passionfruit, so you will need fewer.

Juice of 8 passionfruits, sieved to remove the pips
Juice and zest of 2 limes
4 egg yolks (keep the whites for the meringue)
170g golden caster sugar
1tsp corn flour.

4 egg whites
250g golden caster sugar
1tsp cornflour

2 passionfruits

First, preheat your oven to around 180°C.

Start by preparing the pastry. Now this is boring to both read and write about, and I'm sure you will have your own method (ours is buying shop bought [if it's good enough for Nigella, it's good enough for us]), so we'll leave you to it. But however you choose to do it, you will need a shortcrust pastry case around 25cm across, blind baked and ready to fill.

On to the good bit. CURD! Combine the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl to a paste, making sure to get rid of any big sugar lumps. Into a measuring jug, sieve the passionfruits to remove the seeds leaving the juice behind, and squeeze the limes up to make the juice up to 200ml. Warm the fruit juice up in a pan, leave to cool slightly and then slowly add to the yolk/sugar combo, stirring continually to avoid cooking the eggs - nobody wants a scrambled curd. Once combined, add back to the pan with the corn flour and cook over a low heat, again stirring continually to avoid burning. The curd will thicken after around 4-6 minutes - at this point, remove it from the heat and pour the mixture into your pasty case. Allow this to cool, leaving an orange coloured velvet pool.

Meringue - this can either be easy as pie, or alternatively can get you working up a good sweat. Add all the egg whites to the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large bowl to be hand mixed, and whisk until soft peaks form... in a mixer it should take around 3 minutes, by hand closer to 10 if you're lucky (and determined). As the peaks form, slowly mix in the sugar, trying to keep the air in the meringue, and mix to stiff peaks, then gently stir in the corn flower. Dollop the meringue atop the curd, starting at the edges and pile upwards to a peak in the centre, but ensuring you cover all the curd to protect it from the heat of the oven. Bake for around 20 minutes until lightly golden. Then remove, and rest for at least 30 minutes.

Leave to cool and top with the flesh and seeds of 2 passionfruits. Serve immediately.



Sunday, 20 November 2016

Food pairing with Tempest Brew Co - our week in pictures

Wow! What a week it's been, with a different Tempest Brew Co beer and food pairing suggestion coming out every day! We hope you've been following along and enjoying the combinations we've come up with. Just in case you missed any, here's a little round up...


Mexicake Imperial Stout (11%), paired with slow cooked beer brisket chilli. You can find the full recipe over on Tempest's blog here.


Dios Mio! Jalapeno IPA (6.0%), paired with avocado veggie tacos.


Starter: Double Shuck imperial oyster stout (11%), paired with haggis beignets and a Laphroaig whisky cream sauce.

Main course: Brave New World IPA (7%), paired with a celebration of Scottish seafood mac & cheese, which you can have a go at making yourself by following our recipe here.


Starter: Long White Cloud (5.6%), paired with sea bass ceviche and  a pineapple and kiwi salsa.

Main course: Longer White Cloud (10.2%), paired with herb crusted rack of New Zealand lamb and creamy sweet potato dauphinoise.


Mango Berlinner (4%), paired with a homemade passionfruit meringue pie.

We've had an amazing week and we're pretty gutted it's over! HOWEVER, we're also VERY excited to announce that you haven't heard the last from the Mashtun and Meow x Tempest dream team... we'll be co-hosting Craft Beer Hour on Tuesday 6th December! Please join us with a beer (and a snack!) from 9pm-10pm to chat about all things food-and-beer related.


Laura and Jim

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Upcycling with Gin Explorer

It's no secret that I love my gin. The industry is enjoying such a boom that amazing new producers are popping up EVERYWHERE, and it's becoming more and more difficult to choose which ones to try. This is where Gin Explorer comes in. Set up by the team behind the hugely popular Gin Festival events, Gin Explorer is a monthly subscription box that offers four 50ml samples of carefully sourced gins, plus tonics, treats and even snacks.

When my Gin Explorer box arrived, I was excited to discover a BONUS FIFTH GIN in lieu of a snack - especially as it came in a tiny little jam jar and we all know how much of a sucker I am for anything in miniature.

Which brings me quite neatly onto the gins themselves. First up, the aforementioned Yerburgh's Jam Jar gin, the result of a phenomenal crowdfunding success, reaching it's target in just three days! Bottled/jarred at 43%, it's creamy and fruit driven and worked well with a raspberry garnish - raspberry leaves are one of the botanicals, which provides a lovely berry freshness.

With the main flavour component being one of my favourite fruits, I was looking forward to trying Ely Pink Grapefruit Gin, 30%. The pink grapefruit shines through in abundance with a graceful mixture of tart, bitter, dry and sweet. For me, this was almost more like a liqueur in nature than an outright gin and I didn't want to drown out the delicacy, meaning I drank it neat, although it'd also work well with lemonade or as part of a fruity cocktail.

I tried the Gordon Castle Gin, 43%, next, with a bottle of the BTW tonic also provided in the box. Classically aromatic, with an underlying herbal nature which added a lovely elegance and balance. The BTW tonic worked well as it was clean and crisp enough to enhance the complex flavours through the gin without overwhelming them. I added a sprig of mint and a slice of lime too, which gave just enough freshness to really lift the gin.

Edinburgh is becoming quite a hot spot for gin production, and Pickering's Gin, 42%, was the only gin in the box I'd tried before. I found this fairly sweet and citrus led, very quaffable with Fever Tree tonic and with a refreshing lemony bite in the finish. These guys have created GIN BAUBLES this year which quite frankly sound amazing.

From Manchester's first distillery, the last gin I sampled was the Zymurgorium Sweet Violet Gin, 18.75%... what a GREAT name for a distillery. The gin itself was highly perfumed and very unusual - you'll love this if you're a fan of parma violet sweets! I was surprised to find however that this wasn't sticky or syrupy, but pleasantly light. I'd love to try this as the drizzle in a lemon and lavender drizzle cake!

But that's not all! As part of my Gin Explorer mission, I was challenged to come up with a way to reuse and recycle the bottles, and the box everything came in. As it's coming up to Christmas, obviously the bottles needed to be a part of something festive and I think they look great as little fairy lights!

And the box? I'll let the photo do the talking...



Big thanks to the kind folk at Gin Explorer for sending me a box to try out, and a thank you from Gincat Tosin for his new favourite seat!

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