Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog: drinks
Showing posts with label drinks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label drinks. Show all posts

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

That Boutique-y Whisky Company - Blended Scotch Whisky #1

We were introduced to this delightful dram by Dave Worthington (@WhiskyDiscovery) at last year's The Whisky Show. We were on the hunt for our first whisky of the day, and Dave reckoned there was no finer breakfast treat than this award-winning blend from the excellent That Boutique-y Whisky Company (it took the title of Best Blended Whisky at the 2015 World Whisky Awards). We felt it befitting of Burns Night, too - truly a whisky for all special occasions and every hour of the day! Here are our thoughts...


Colour: Lacquered mahogany
Nose: Dark chocolate ice cream, a sticky sweetness accompanied by a soft coastal waft towards the end.
Palate: The initial spice that swells across the mouth gives way to a delightful punch of smooth fruity acidity and rich chocolate, it's pretty much black forest gateau. Never at any point do these flavours clash or linger past their stay of welcome.
Finish: As the rich fruitiness gives way, there is a warming blossom honey that lingers on the palate, with gentle salination for balance.


That Boutique-y Whisky Company say that the sphere on the bottle label is testament to the perfectly rounded nature of the dram, and we would heartily agree. The youngest whisky within the bottle stands at 35 years old, and time has worked its magic beautifully. A stunning blend.

Slainte!

Friday, 6 January 2017

Imperial Raspberry Stout: Thornbridge meets Yamazaki

Beer and whisky... in case you hadn't noticed, two of our favourite things. We just so happened to have one of each in the cupboard which we thought would work well in a joint tasting... Thornbridge Brewery's Imperial Raspberry Stout, brewed in collaboration with St Eriks, and a sample of the SMWS 119.14 Raspberry Imperial Stout.

We started with the beer and were instantly hit by the deep, rich raspberry aroma. The flavour bursts with raspberry coulis, slightly tart but balanced by bitter dark chocolate and hints of sweet bonfire toffee, all backed up with a smooth and roasted malty backbone. The finish is surprisingly short for such a robust stout (the ABV weighs in at 10%) but this makes it all the more drinkable. A total delight.


Onto the whisky - a single barrel Yamazaki bottled at 53.9%. Classically Japanese, light and distinctly yet delicately tannic on the nose, but with a fruity twist. Spicy and earthy with deeper woodiness on the palate, all alongside sweet raspberries. With time in the glass it opens up and becomes a little more rounded with a softer character that allows for more of the sherry to come through from the bota corta cask. Overall though, not particularly balanced for an 11 year old whisky, but no worse for this - it's a real experience to drink and excites the palate with every sip.

Obviously we couldn't resist mixing a bit of each together to create a boilermaker and it was a TRIUMPH. 

Cheers,

J&L

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...

Cheers!

Laura

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.


Slainte,

Jim & Laura


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!

Cheers,

Laura and Jim

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.

Santé!

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.

Slainte,

J&L

Sunday, 15 May 2016

New Belgium Brewery

Neither of us have ever been keen cyclists, but after two trips to New Belgium during our time in Fort Collins we might just be tempted to dust off and re-oil our bikes (currently decaying in the cellar).

On our first trip to the brewery we met with Spokes Model and long serving employee Bryan Simpson in the tap room over a generous pour of their flagship amber ale Fat Tire (5.2%) and he ran us through some of the history of Fort Collins' biggest craft brewery. Established in 1991 after a cycling trip to (Old) Belgium frequenting many of the beer bars and Brasseries the country has to offer, husband and wife team Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan aimed to emulate some the beers on their garage brew kit. And so New Belgium was born.

The original brew kit

As we travelled through the state of the art facility, one of the largest craft breweries in America, we were struck by the sensitivity for tradition in the brewery as well as the want to push forward and produce modern American beer, all against an ideology of environmental care and sustainability. From the original brew kit from humble home brew origins, to the highly polished stainless steel four vessel brew system with steam recollection, to the traditional oak vats used to produce their sour beer next door, to the ultra-modern lab with stir-plates and Erlenmeyer flasks of beer samples. This approach of modern brewing technology coupled with traditional European techniques allows New Belgium to produce one of the biggest ranges of quality beers of any brewery we've been to.


As the tour continued we headed into the foudre forest, an absolutely beautiful room with more than 64 10,000l repurposed wine vats used in the making of slow sour beer, intermingled with a selection of whisky casks from Denver distillery Leopold Brothers, and a climbing wall. All the foudres are filled with one of two different base beers lovingly named Oscar and Felix, the first a black lager and the other being a golden ale. As we stood chatting surrounded by wood we were offered a glass of La Folie (GABF 2001 Gold Medal), an utterly delectable Flanders Red style sour beer with a blend that has been acidifying for anywhere between one year to as much as three. The tartness is reminiscent of apples and peaches, with a light yet lingering oaken texture toward the end. One of the best beers we've ever drunk, and in the most perfect of settings to try it... the heady aroma of the room is the sort you can conjure up just from thinking about it.


The final section of our tour through what is affectionately referred to as the Thunderdome - a frankly enormous bottling line and relatively smaller canning line which took in all around 4 minutes to stroll across. The continuous rattling of glass and clunk of machines highlights the scale of New Belgium's output (as if 64 oak vats of beer weren't enough to do that), capable of 700 bottles a minute with only a hand-full of people operating it. Slick.

We finished up in back in the tap room with a glass of La Terroir, created with the aforementioned Felix as the base then dry hopped to add a layer of complexity, that buoys all the other layers of sour freshness. Another contender for lifetime favourite beer for us both, and impossible to pick which we loved more between La Terroir and La Folie. We brought a bottle of each home just to re-test this theory but still just concluded that both were astounding.

Us with Bryan and Chris from the New Belgium team!

We spent a good couple more hours in the taproom, working our way through the New Belgium core range along with specials including their collaboration with Ben & Jerry's - a 6.3% salted caramel brownie brown ale which was SO up Laura's street (and she got to to try the ice cream the following day too). We massively enjoyed chatting to all of the staff we met, every single one of whom was bursting with enthusiasm for the company they all feel truly a part of (which indeed they are, the company being 100% employee owned). Bryan also told us a story of how Neil Fallon from one of our favourite bands, Clutch, had a go on Bryan's guitar while the band were involved in creating a collaboration beer. Bryan might just be the coolest man we've ever met.

We had such a brilliant day that for Laura's birthday we decided to return, where we joined on the general tour. This followed the same format as the first but was slightly less in-depth but still relaxed and informative. This one included a go on the brewery's helter skelter!

There have recently been a number of rumours regarding the future of New Belgium and the likelihood of it being bought out. We asked Bryan on our first trip who vehemently denied that this was a possibility. Our tour guide on the second visit was a little more vague, which could suggest that it has been mentioned throughout the company but is still by no means a certain. But as the brewery is an employee owned company, it would be hoped that their votes and opinions would be taken into consideration before making a decision with potentially a huge impact on their future.

With a second site in Asheville, North Carolina, having opened earlier this month, it will surely be the case that New Belgium's reputation as a progressive and far-reaching brewery can only increase. Although the brewery prioritises the American market and hopes to sell in every state as a priority over growing export, we are hopeful that before too long we will start to see their beer on our shores!

Cheers,

J&L

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Wet Yer Whiskers: A Collaboration Brew

What better way to celebrate Sheffield Beer Week than to brew a beer with some of our Steel City chums! Teaming with Meg and Chris from Karma Citra, we brewed with our day job mates Abbeydale Brewery.

We bandied around a few ideas before settling down on a classic oxymoronic beverage - the white stout. While yes, we know stout is just a traditional term for strong, in the current lexicon it is most commonly used as a dark beer descriptor.

Made with loads of coffee from local experts Pollards, cocoa nibs for a hit of rich sweetness and heaps of lactose, we aimed to create a beer that when drunk confuses as well as pleases.

The result? A 5.5% beauty we called Wet Yer Whiskers! Look out for it heading out on bars around Sheffield and beyond...

There are some hops underneath... Promise

Ar' Meg operating the squeegee


Chris is life and soul of all parties!


Brewsome Twosome

The final offering!


Cheers!

Laura, Jim, Chris and Meg

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Sheffield Beer Map

Are you in need of a beer in Sheffield? Hopefully this map will help you find some liquid refreshment. We have arranged the map into four areas of Sheffield and highlighted our recommended watering holes.



We will endeavour to keep the maps information updated. Anywhere you think we've missed please let us know.

Jim and Laura

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Beer and Food Pairing: Spontanbasil and Lasagne

First up, let's talk about THE BEER. Spontanbasil, crafted by the legendary combination of Mikkeller and Lindemans, is a spontaneously fermented wild beer that just completely sings of basil all the way through the drink, not just at the initial tasting (which is so often the case with this ilk of almost novelty additions into beers). The tartness of the wild yeast works incredibly well with the freshness of the herb and adds layers and layers of depth. It's the sort of beer that isn't just a flavour on the palate, it's an entire sensory experience, with a heady aroma that floods through the mind and makes it the type of drink that you won't forget in a hurry.

A beer this phenomenal needed a meal worthy of it to pair with. Having sampled a small amount before, we felt that a herb-ridden pasta sauce would be a winning flavour combination. So we decided to set ourselves a bit of a challenge and make a lasagne entirely from scratch. 


The key component to a cracking lasagne is surely a top quality tomato sauce. We cooked down 8 cans of plum tomatoes with two onions, a chilli and six cloves of garlic for a total of around 12 hours at 120°C... this made far too much for a family-sized lasagne, but we've got a bit of a sauce solera system situation going on in the freezer, which the remnants topped up perfectly. Whilst this might seem a ridiculously long amount of time, caring for a sauce in this way allows all of the sugars in the tomatoes and onions to break down and start to caramelise, leaving a wonderfully indulgent, almost "meaty" rich sauce. To give the sauce a fresher nature too, we added another tin of tomatoes just before assembling the lasagne.

We decided on ox cheek for the meat, but really anything that can be slow cooked will do, such as brisket or pork shoulder, something cheap and cheerful. The meat was browned a piece at a time (we used three cheeks in total) on all sides. To this a quartered onion and a stick or two of celery were added, along with a bottle of beer (Poacher's Choice in this instance, but really you could use whatever you have lying around in the cupboard). This was cooked on the hob at the lowest setting to blip away for 4-6 hours, meaning the meat was super tender and just pulled apart once cooked. Just before assembling the lasagne, the cheeks were pulled and added to the tomatoes to warm through and let the flavours mingle. We found we also needed a little extra water to keep the sauce easily workable when layering up.


Admittedly, making pasta from scratch is a bit of a faff, but totally worth it. For a large lasagne, we made about 500g of pasta, which is 450g of '00 flour' and the equivalent of 6 free range eggs. This can come in the form of 12 yolks or 6 full eggs - the yolks give the pasta a great texture and a more "full" flavour of pasta that you simply can't get in dried. If you fancy having a go yourself, here’s a quick little tutorial:
Bring the eggs and flour together in a bowl. Once they have roughly conglomerated, tip out onto a clean worktop (you can do the whole mixing process on the work top, but it makes a tremendous mess unless you have a decent space to do it on, which we do not). Knead into a dough and really work it hard to allow the gluten to become stretchy. At this point you can set aside in the fridge for at least half an hour until its ready to roll and assemble. It also freezes perfectly well, should you want to double the quantities – just be sure to defrost thoroughly overnight in the fridge.

Back to our meal. The final thing to prepare was the white sauce. A roux of 80g of melted butter and 65g of flour formed the base, combined with a litre of hot/almost boiling milk gradually incorporated in a ladle full at a time, with the aromatic additions of parsley, basil and a grating of nutmeg. Finally a good handful of parmesan was added before removing from the heat.


Assembly time! The pasta was rolled out into thin sheets and blanched for a couple of minutes (we’d recommend doing this in more water than looks necessary, one or two sheets at a time). To layer up the dish, we started with pasta, then meaty tomatoes, then white sauce and topped with a layer of fresh basil leaves. We repeated this three times, then topped the final layer of pasta with the last of the white sauce and a good sprinkling of parmesan and mozzarella. 

45 minutes in the oven later... ta-dah!


The meal as a whole worked superbly together. The richness of the dish brought out the tartness in the beer, which in turn cut through the lasagne and freshened up the palate beautifully. Adding plenty of basil to the lasagne provided a bonus complement to the beer and allowed all the flavours to absolutely sing. A triumph!

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project

Post-Traditional Brewing

Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project are without doubt forging a name for themselves in the world of sour beer. Whilst still relatively small, their reputation is steadily growing, making slow beer in a way that is traditional yet at the same time truly modern. The techniques at the heart of their processes were long-established before "clean" beer became the mainstream... A time in which bacteria were embraced if not fully understood, a time where tartness was accepted and not a reason to bring a drink back to the bar. Crooked Stave take these principals but drag them full throttle into the modern age, showcasing innovation, knowledge and education in absolute spades.

The brewery is a producer of the kind of beer that is not really feasible for any brewery in the UK - here, we simply don't have the massive amount of space (and money, in the very vast majority of cases) required. America on the other hand, with an abundance of relatively cheap land, enables longer term sour producers to thrive. As well as this, in the case of Crooked Stave and other similar producers, the thriving wine scene across parts of the US is key too. The climate in areas such as along the West Coast and some of the southern states including Texas is perfect for grapes and is now home to an array of seriously up and coming vineyards. While these things don't seem directly linked, the major crossover on these two situations is wood... really big wood.


The foudre (or foeder, as our US pals know it) is an integral part of the large scale, long term sour beer production process. These vessels take up a fraction of the space to hold a massive amount of beer, allowing it to sour with the addition of in-house bacteria and yeast mainly comprised of Brettanomyces (we know it as Brett, coz' we are best buds). These gargantuan oak vats often come straight from wine producers, who often want rid of them as they are susceptible to the kind of bacterial infection that Crooked Stave crave... fortuitous indeed for us sour beer fiends. While Crooked Stave do also host an ageing program consisting of bourbon barrels and liqueur casks, these are mainly used to finish or round off a carefully selected blend of sour beer from different foudres.

Next door to the ageing room, the brew house itself is relatively small, with a tidy little brew kit and an open cooling plate used in spontaneously fermented beers, along with stainless steel holding tanks and fermenters. At the helm of this (cool)ship is Chad Yakobson, a man whose expertise lies in a Masters dissertation entitled "Pure Culture Fermentation Characteristics of Brettanomyces Yeast Species and Their Use in the Brewing Industry”, an intriguing topic indeed and a study which we'd love to have a good read of (the site hosting it is down at the moment, but we're hopeful!).


Not being able to drink on the brewery premises due to local liquor laws, and the brewery itself being well out of the way of Denver's central district, Crooked Stave have an additional brewery tap, quite unlike the majority of the breweries we visited during our Colorado trip. The tap itself is situated within a shopping collaborative that would make even Camden Town blush. The Source is an 1880s brick factory turned boutique food/boozery, consisting of a bakery selling delectable French pastries, a butcher's with an in-house beef ageing room, coffee roasters, an Italian deli with a wall of spice from around the globe, and more.


With 22 different lines across the bar, including a mixture of sour beers, saisons, a couple of more conventionally fermented beers and non-alcoholic Kombucha tea, the tap room was a wood-clad treat. We started off with two different releases of St. Bretta, a delightfully fresh whitebier fermented with 100% Brett. The first was finished with clementines and the second with satsumas and mandarins. Both were thirst-quenching and bursting with fruity freshness, although the satsuma version had a little more in the way of tartness which made it our unanimous favourite. We continued to drink through the list via beers that were dry-hopped, brewed with sage, or aged with apricots, until we reached the two barrel aged beauties sharing the name of Cybies.

The pair are oak-aged, mixed fermentation Belgian beers that sit happily at 9%. The key difference in these two beers is the fruit additions. The first, Salvador Cybies, is finished in barrels rippled with tart cherry stickiness, but it was the second that flew to the top of the list of beers we had in our short time in the US and possibly our joint all time favourite beer: Silly Cybies. Initially fresh raspberries on the nose and palate, exactly like fruits plucked straight from gardens and hedgerows, the alcohol and fermentation added waves of flavour on top of layers of funky depth, coupled with an intoxicating rich wood finish. Fantastic.


We are starting to see a few of Crooked Stave's beers making their way to the UK, as the market increasingly demands interesting tart beers on this side of the pond. What can be a little off-putting for consumers here is the cost, something we would refute as a reason to leave these beers on the shelf because frankly they are expensive to make. It can take years to create a high quality long term sour, which then needs to be blended and often finished, whether through dry hopping in the case of the excellent Progenitor or with fruit as in the aforementioned Cybies Series. There is a real skill in blending that is arguably closer to whisky production than conventional ale brewing. But for us that knowledge, skill and overall commitment to a product is the real cost of this style of brewing. Crooked Stave are proof that this investment is certainly worth paying the price for.

Massive thanks to Zack, Andy, and the rest of the Crooked Stave team for their warm hospitality and taking the time to teach us about their beers and show us round their magnificent brewery. We were beyond inspired!

Cheers,

Jim and Laura

Friday, 26 February 2016

Espresso Martinis

Much as we love our spirits unadulterated, we are also BIG fans of the odd cocktail or two. The espresso martini is one of our absolute favourites... rich, creamy and decadent. The absolute key to getting it right is using good quality ingredients - we go by the rule of never putting in a cocktail anything we wouldn't drink neat.

First of all, make the espresso. Instant coffee will in no way cut it, it needs to be the proper ground stuff.


Put a load of ice in a cocktail shaker. Add a double shot of vodka per person. We used Brittains vodka, made in Doncaster (always nice to keep things local!) and bought from one of our favourite independent shops, Mr Pickles. Next, a generous shot of coffee liqueur. Add a shot (or more, if you like it bitter) of espresso per portion and if you're feeling particularly swish, a little glug of chocolate syrup. The final ingredient is an egg white, very important for a lovely frothy top. Shake until you feel like your arms might fall off, then strain into martini glasses.


Enjoy!

L&J
"Serious GOURMET shit"

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Black Bottle Brewery

"Just give me a minute, I need to glue the horn in this unicorn" came the opening gambit from Sean "Captain" Nook, founder of and brewer for Black Bottle Brewery (BBB), Fort Collins, Colorado. And so the scene was set for an absolute blast of an afternoon.

Like many of the breweries in Fort Collins, BBB have a tasting room which has become an absolute main stay of the community... In the hours we spent there, university students, young parents and retirees all came in to sample some of the 40 different draft beers in the midst of good music and chilled vibes. Almost all were warmly received as regulars by the bar staff. However, unlike most of the bars in town, BBB is clad with taxidermied squirrels posed in various throes of death/murder/partytime, along with a variety of other similarly interesting paraphernalia.


The 8 barrel brew kit sat in a basement below the avant-garde rodents is a veritable mishmash of gear, with a copper kettle next to an unmatched combi-mash-lautertun. The kit was previously owned by Shirts Brewing, Michigan, who themselves are expanding to export further afield. The space for the fermentation and conditioning is limited but the production works well for the capacity, as it's small enough to brew some ridiculous one offs as well as having the space to regularly brew the beers that are the mainstay of the business. Pushing further back through the basement, we reached the barrel store, holding a mix of barrel ageing and souring in various stages of development, definitely stuff to watch out for in the future.


Sean told us over a glass or two of Scuba Steve, a fantastically juicy classic US IPA (6.3%), that the brewery gained infamy for its range of beers that were 'dry-hopped' with cereal, "Cerealiously", to the point of being offered funding to open a brewery only making these beers... a result of the crave for craft beer always looking for something new or a gimmick. Whilst we're sure this would have produced tons of fun beer, the team decided to continue full steam ahead with their wider-ranging, all-encompassing plans for the FoCo brewery... very fortuitously for us it turned out, as we sat at the bar faced with an incredible selection of fonts. 22 of the beers brewed on site were available, along with another 20 guests.

We managed to make our way through most of the menu during the afternoon and a repeat visit later in the week, and can honestly say that every single beer was excellent, with our experience massively enhanced by friendly and knowledgeable staff headed up by Sean himself. Here's a quick look at a few of our highlights...
Tele-Porter, described simply as a Nutella porter, did exactly what it set out to do. So many beers trying to emulate a very specific flavour disappoint, but this was quite the exception. Featuring hazelnut and malted chocolate, this was a 5.1% glass of utter joy.
Carlos - a 7.5% American Brown - was served from a tap made of a dead squirrel (not kidding). Sweet and malty with a good hoppiness upfront, the flavour lived up to the novelty pour.
Bark Twice If You're In Milwaukee - now we have no idea what's behind this name, but it was a bloody delicious American style barley wine, weighing in at a mighty 10.4%. With a much more hop-forward character than it's English counterparts, this still retained a distinctive sweetness and a long-lasting finish.
Laura also had a Scuba Steve Mai Tai... the aforementioned IPA mixed with Ballast Point 3 Sheets barrel aged rum, Myers rum, grenadine, pineapple and orange juice. A tropical, ingenuitive delight.


With development on the horizon, such as a silo being installed just outside the brewery, and a liquor license for a second property, it's clear that any expansion will be sure to stay on Black Bottle's terms whilst always keeping ingenuity, the community, and a little bit of bonkers-ness at the very heart of their beer production.

Massive thanks to Sean and the team for making us Brits so welcome!


Cheers,

J&L