Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog: 2020

Saturday, 14 November 2020

Pub Chronicles - Three Stags Heads

 A sign at the bar loudly proclaims:

"PLEASE DO NOT ASK FOR DRAUGHT LAGER, AS A SMACK IN THE GOB MAY OFFEND".

Our first experience of the Three Stags Heads, based on a busy main road in Derbyshire with only a farm and a greasy spoon for truckers as neighbours, was as part of a Duke of Edinburgh expedition. We'd travelled from Stoney Middleton across the seemingly endless Longstone Moor before reaching Wardlow Mires. Our digs for the night - a particularly non-descript field by the side of the pub, which serves the dual purpose of camping and lambing. On that first trip we were charged £1.50 per night to put our tent up - returning a few years later we discovered a surcharge of an extra 50p, along with the upgrade of a lightbulb in the cinderblock loo.

We've woken up on many a fuzzy morn in this field, only sometimes because of a wobbly lambing ewe tripping over our guy ropes, but always with the aid of Black Lurcher.

Brewed by Abbeydale Brewery solely for the Three Stags, Black Lurcher is a baffling anomaly, a quirk that the brewery has retained for decades. The pub was the very first customer of the brewery back in 1996 - they asked for something unique, and almost 25 years later they still have it. A 7% well-hopped dark ale, it's collectively one of our favourite beers (disclaimer: Jim has now made it a few times, but it's been up there since well before our days of working at the brewery). Named for the canine companions you'll find yourselves surrounded by in the Three Stags', it's one of those beers you get thirsty just thinking about - black as tar, always served in a heavy tankard with a thick yet effervescent creamy top which gently oozes over the rim of the glass in anticipation of that first sip. Heavy, satisfying, strangely refreshing and very much of the place.

The pub itself is an inadvertently Gothic delight. A mummified cat and a taxidermy hare carrying a shotgun are the main sources of decor and even Laura (at a not-so-lofty 5 foot 1) has to stoop to make her way through the heavy doors into the "front room" of the pub - the sort of room that even in the height of summer with blazing sunshine outside, you can guarantee there'll be a roaring fire inside, with one-time landlord Geoff ever-present in a rickety seat in front of it, a lurcher at his feet.

The pub holds no prisoners with their house rules - the aforementioned lack of lager, a strict "no phone" policy, and definitely no music or other such frivolous entertainment. One trip of ours coincided with the World Cup, and we were greeted by a blackboard which simply stated "WHAT FOOTBALL?" It's the type of pub where you make the most of it for yourself - a quiet, contemplative, well kept pint, a chat with the seemingly omniscient staff, and if you're really lucky, you'll even get to pluck your own pheasant for tea.

The Three Stags' is one of the last places we visited before lockdown hit back in March, and it's without doubt one of the pubs we absolutely cannot wait to get back to when they're able to re-open. We'd love to encourage you to visit when you can, but if you do so on the back of this, please don't tell the staff you read about them on the internet - they'll probably bar us for life.

Cheers!



Lockdown 2.0 - missing the pub

I miss pints.

I miss a table with torn open packs of Sneiders Pretzels.

I miss lacing.

I miss a sarni for snap after early brew shifts.

I miss 4:15 lagers with the team.

I miss the joint acknowledgement that we are, indeed, in rounds.

I miss the pub.

Both mine and Laura's first introduction to beer was in the same restaurant with our respective parents. While they never knew each other, they had a shared knowledge of the best Northern Pakistani food East Sheffield in the early 90s had to offer, in a sadly now closed classic curry house called The Kashmir. Reminiscent of a greasy spoon, but where the sticky tables were accompanied by gilt depictions of Mecca, and the usual glass fridge of uninspiring sandwiches was replaced with a warming cabinet of poppadoms.

While we sat as children with glass tumblers of mango lassi and wooden bowls of saag aloo, large breads and bowls of multi coloured fluffy rice littering the lightly viscid table, all watched over by owner Bsharath (we knew him as Paul), one of the most gentle people you could ever wish to meet, who'd been working there since he was 14 years old - there amongst it all would sit a plastic jug or two of pale ale, carefully brought over from the hostelry across the road.

The East House, somewhat renowned in Sheffield for being the site of a triple murder on New Year's Day in 1960, was an old school boozer which was much loved by many despite having a reputation for being a little rough around the edges. It was warm and welcoming, there was already a friendly greeting from the landlord, and the beer was always well looked after. The pale ale in question was Abbeydale Brewery's flagship, Moonshine - and what turned out to be my first taste of beer in a pub once I was old enough to join my parents in supping a glass, is now a beer that I work in a team to create - pre-lockdown, over 30,000 pints a week.

The Kashmir closed in 2010, followed by the East House in 2013. And in reminiscing about missing the pub in general, I realised how much I still miss both of these two venues - the sense of comfort, familiarity, total lack of pretension, and overall quiet enthusiasm for just getting on with what they do best.

 I miss the pub. 

Jim.

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Puffing Billy Steam Vodka

From the team at The Borders Distillery comes Puffing Billy Steam Vodka - an unfiltered malted barley vodka, named after their specially-commissioned Carterhead still in which it is made. The Borders Distillery opened in March 2018 and is the first Scotch whisky distillery in the area since 1837. Their method of production of their vodka is completely unique, with the vapours steamed through charcoal inside the still rather than filtered, which the team believe would strip out some of the character which they meticulously strive to preserve in its entirety. They use this same technique to produce their Kerr's Borders Gin.

Vodka isn't the first thing that tends to spring to our mind when we fancy a tipple and as such it's pretty underrepresented in our spirits collection. Nonetheless, it's one of those drinks that whenever we have one it's something we really enjoy, and Puffing Billy definitely fits this theme.



Suggested serves


The recommended "neat" serve of this is called "The Steampunk" - served from the freezer, in a chilled shot glass with a crack of black pepper and a cornichon pickle. We didn't have cornichons, so went for a sliced burger gherkin, but we reckon it was just as good! Incredibly smooth, well rounded on the palate and takes the sharpness of the pickle with ease. Lovely warmth and creaminess which is lifted by the light acidity of the garnish. Laura picked up on a bit of a bubblegum character too (from the vodka, not the gherkin, just for clarity). A sipper, not a shotter!


We also tried Puffing Billy in one of the recommended cocktails, "Billy's Mojo"- effectively a mojito with the rum replaced by vodka. Lime juice and brown sugar were muddled with mint leaves freshly plucked from our garden, before ice, vodka and soda were added to the glass. A thirst quenching and refreshing long drink, perfect for a sunny afternoon.

The Borders Distillery team also recommend drinking Puffing Billy in a "Borders Mule" with cloudy apple juice, lime and ginger beer, which we can fully imagine would taste delicious. Sadly not all ingredients we could easily come by on our lockdown-appropriate trip to the local supermarket, but something we'd be keen to try in future!

We also reckon it'd be fantastic with sharper fruit flavours, perhaps in a gooseberry martini - definitely a versatile spirit that would be a good addition to any mixologist's drinks cabinet.



Cheers,

Laura & Jim

Disclaimer: We were invited to give this unique spirit a try by Steve at The Whisky Wire and were sent a sample for review. This has not affected our feedback - this post represents our genuine, honest opinions.

Monday, 18 May 2020

Fermentation Station

One of the things we have found ourselves with recently is more time. And as the old adage goes, with more time comes more fermentability.

Whether it's sauces, fruits, chillis, or even potatoes, there are often fermentation jars on the go around our kitchen,and we've stepped it up a gear in the past couple of months. So this is a little round up of our little fermentation projects, with some ideas of flavour combinations and some techniques that anyone can have a go at.


Fermentation is essentially a way of preserving perishable foods by encouraging the growth of bacteria to lower the pH, increasing the acidity. The bacteria, while wild in this case, are the same that occur in live yoghurt - lactobacillus. They're literally everywhere, just floating around nonchalantly constantly on the search for something upon which to feed. Here, we are encouraging the lactobacillus by reducing the activity of other wild yeasts and bacteria with salt. It may feel like a lot of salt sometimes but by the time it's ready to eat, the acidity will have picked up and the flavours of fermentation will have balanced the salination.

Our first top tip would be to use decent salt, not table salt as it has anti-caking agents and can be iodized, which will inhibit bacterial growth. Opt instead for sea salts (we're Maldon fans), or if you're made of gold you may want to give Himalayan salt a try (although the mineral benefit is largely bullshit). Generally speaking, everything needs around 1.5-2% salt by weight of your base ferment.

Also worth mentioning for beginners, that the process of fermentation involves the creation of gas. You need to get yourself an appropriate fermentation jar (Kilner jars are good), and "burp" your little bubbling babies every day for a week or so, and then every other day until you see no more release of gas. This will help to prevent stinky explosions.

Here's a few simple ideas to get you started...

Beer vinegar 

For this, you'll need a vinegar mother. Live vinegar (which means it includes a mother) can be bought in most supermarkets, and flocculates (settles) easily. If you leave a bottle to settle overnight and decant the clear vinegar off, leaving the sediment behind, this is the mother. Splitting this between around 400ml of "food" will work well. The food can be anything with a little bit of sugar left. A bit of "leftover" wine or cider, or the last bit of that minikeg that you've bought because you can't go to the pub, all work well.

The vinegar will start to sour quickly - over a couple of days to a week - and you can start using it at this point, but leaving it to mature for a month or longer will intesify the flavour.

As you start to produce vinegar, the mother will munch on the sugar and carbohydrates you feed it and will grow, allowing you to eventually produce more. This will help your brine fermentations by pitching a little hither and thither.


Beer pickled onions 

Onions
Salt (1.5-2% onion weight)
Brown sugar (5% onion weight)
Beer:Vinegar (60:40 - enough to cover the onions)

Any onions can be used for this, but I like something a little more interesting - if you can get some little silver skins, some shallots or rings of red onion then go for it. To prep the onions, first peel them, halve them (and if they are larger onions I like to quarter them) but leaving a 2cm join at the root end. this allows them to pickle quickly and evenly, but helps the onion retain its structure. Weigh your onions and calculate your dry additions. Dissolve them in a little beer (we used a pale ale - don't go for anything too hoppy, but anything with a bit of sweetness or something saison-ny would work well... we're going to try a stout next!) and pour over your onions in a jar, topping up with more beer and vinegar to cover - the above ratios are approximate so just use whatever you have available. It'll take around 5 days to start softening the intense raw onion flavour, but will develop nicely over a month.

Served simply with a hunk of cheese and a generous slice of bread, these are delicious.

Kimchi

Cabbage or Chinese greens
Gochuchang (between 1tsp and 1tbsp per 200g of cabbage by weight, depending on how spicy you like it)
Salt (1.5% by cabbage weight)

Optional extras (per 200g of cabbage)
Spring onion - 1 finely chopped
Ginger - a thumb, either grated or jullienne
Garlic - 3-6 cloves crushed or chopped
Chillies - 2-4 chopped
Fish sauce - a good glug or two

First, weigh the greens so you can calculate how much of the other ingredients you need. Chop the cabbage into ribbons or if using Chinese greens, such as Pak Choi, into quarters. Take the salt and rub it into the leaves and all the nooks and crannies of your chosen veggie. Set to one side for around 15 minutes, while you mix the gochuchang and optional additions together.  At this point thoroughly rub the sauce into the leaves. Simply jar it up and leave for a week to a month for all that funk to come through.

I like to keep topping mine up with fresh cabbage - just give it all a good stir and the leaves that have been in longest will start to soften and break down, with the fresh taking on all the flavour and adding a pleasing crunch. A bit like a Kimchi solera system.

Garlic and Ginger

50/50 garlic/ginger chopped loosely
Salt

Mix everything together, leave for a few days until the aroma intesifies and then blitz.
You can then smosh into any food that needs garlic - it's great to fry off as the base of curry and stir fry, or toss into some fried prawns with a little lime juice. Or perhaps the base of herb pesto, warm through with some olive oil and toss into pasta.

I have really enjoyed using this paste - the garlic really intensifies but also rounds out with the fresh spice of the ginger, as well as having the added advantage of convenience from a jar. It HONKS but it's so worth it. Ridiculously easy too.

Thanks to Bon Appetite specifically Brad and "Its Alive", from whom this idea has been liberated.

Pickled Chillies

A bushel of chillies
Salt (1.5-2% of weight)
Water to cover the chillies in the jar
Vinegar culture if you have one, just a splash

There is no skill involved in this whatever, just throw it all together in a jar, shake to dilute the salt and leave for a couple of weeks to pickle. Consume. Perhaps on a Ploughman's lunch, chopped into a rarebit, or chopped into butter to top a naan bread with. Basically anywhere you fancy a little bit of heat, these guys are there to help.

Green Tomato Ketchup

Green tomatoes
Salt (1.5% of the weight of the toms)
Sugar (10% weight)
Chillies
Black pepper

Roughly chop the tomatoes, into halves, quarters, whatevs. Chuck everything in a fermentation jar and cover the now salty, sweet and spicy toms with water, seal and then shake. Loosen off the jar to allow for fermentation and leave for 3-5 days. Then, blitz everything until smooth - the skins and the pulp shouldv'e broken down a little, but after blitzing give it a taste. More chilli or black pepper could be added, but the acidity will continue to build after the blending so no need to vinegar.

Fermented potatoes

Inspired by Brus in Copenhagen, where we ate fermented fries with mushroom ketchup nearly three years ago. We still think of them daily.
Potatoes
Salt (1.5% of the weight of the potato)
Water
Garden herbs (we use a lot of rosemary)

Chop your potatoes, chuck everything in a jar and leave it for a bit. While initially it may seem odd, this is totally worth it, whether you opt for brining overnight before frying off potatoes for a breakfast hash, or going for a longer ferment on a roast potato for a Sunday dinner, this process really intensifies the flavour and firms up your spud. They are splendid after 3 days, oven roasted for an hour at 180C with a nob of dripping.


Once you've embarked on your first few projects and you are happy with the way your ferments are tasting, then why not chuck a little bit of a similar base into your next batch?
Beer vinegar -> pickled onions -> ketchup

All of thes ideas above are interchangable, blendable and pitchable. If you are really happy with the flavour profile of something, sacrifice some of it to the next batch rather than shoving it all on the next toastie, however tempting that may be. Future you will be grateful.

Let us know what you try, and happy fermenting!

Jim