As sure as Autumn passing to Winter; as sure as repeats of TheTwo Ronnies or Morecambe and Wise, as sure in fact as Eggnogs is Eggnogs, Christmas is here again, and with it the routines of our Festive Period. Anticipation; excitement (and not just for the children); lie-ins (well, a bit); the decorations gradually getting more irritating by the day; so many presents that they bring on a spurt of generosity of spirit that has you giving to the Charity appeals on the TV; adverts for DFS, holiday cottage brochures landing on your door mat, copious amounts of food, and food that’s far too rich at that, and with it, like a sinister shadow of gluttony, leftovers.
Cooking in the Tinted household is never easy. A lifelong carnivore partnered to a virtually lifelong vegetarian; an elder child with a penchant to nibble on the cooked carcass of dead flesh once carved, whilst the other revolted by it. This means more leftovers, as multiple meals must be cooked. Then there’s the visitors, before and after the Day itself, and often long after the ‘safe leftover period’ (SLP), that critical timeframe after which you know in your Heart that you shouldn’t really give your them the remains of the Ham or the salmon or the Roasties, and you’re not convinced that cold white sauce goes that well with mini sausage rolls anyway.
This year, I decided to deal with leftovers of a different kind. The strays; the bottles that, for whatever reason, got away, escaped consumption. For some, this is an unknown phenomenon. Alas, this is not the case for me. Call it fashion, call it tastes, sometimes I just get locked into a beer or a beer style and struggle to pull myself away; other times, it’s the taste that has left them on the shelf. And occasionally – rarely – there is the forgotten stash as was the case with this year’s first Leftover, from Sharps in Cornwall. Chalky’s Bite, a beer whose task it was as it says on the bottle blurb, ‘to create an English beer with the character, individuality and quality to stand along the Belgian greats’. This prompts a number of questions, firstly, if it’s designed to be that good, why the heck is there any left, and secondly, woah! Taking on a beer is OK, but taking on all of Belgium’s finest is a bold – and erroneous – claim, surely? I mean, where do you start? Are we talking Lambics; brown ales, sour red ales, Trappist…? Goal posts are useful, but not necessarily when they are larger than the pitch and moving. But the first question – ah, yes, a hidden stash? I’m lucky enough to have a cellar in my house (it was, to use the marketing parlance) the ‘tiebreaker’ when deciding to buy a house that was at the time, ‘delapidated’ (thanks Dad, for that confidence boosting assessment). Talk about getting your priorities wrong – whilstthere was no boundary in place between our house and the next door neighbour, whilst the old coach house at the back was structurally questionable, and whilst the drive flooded with even the merest drizzle, the previous occupants decided instead to paint every room à la Changing Rooms. This, rather bizarrely, included painting the cellar in bold Adobe shades, inspired by the rustic hues of the native pueblo Indians of America’s Old West. In Staffordshire. The other rooms were far worse, but they were dealt with rapidly. The cellar to this day on the other hand, transports me to the Mesas and Buttes of Arizona. But it’s damn fine for storing beer, wine, and books. An even temperature all year round. It is, in short, the perfect Man Cave.
And it was here, tucked away between the rather empty looking wine rack, an old toaster and the deep freeze, that there lurked a partly broached case of Chalky’s Bite. It was dated November 2012, but at 6.8% and bottle conditioned, that meant nothing. Particularly as the beer has apparently been matured for 3 months, so another 8 weeks won’t harm. I released the case from its jail and prepared the bottles for potation. The first thing that struck me for a beer brewed with Wild Cornish Fennel was… well, the lack of fennel. The other Sharp’s / Rick Stein beer – Chalky’s Bark – has ginger in it (Wild Cornish Ginger??) and whilst it isn’t strong it’s clearly there. In this beer, the fennel seems to be more in the aroma – which frankly, is still slight – and also the texture, the mouthfeel. There’s definitely a smooth, enveloping richness which the fennel seems to contribute to. It’s also deceptively drinkable – a surprising light colour, I’d say a bright honey mustard would be about there, a decent crème fraiche coloured head and a taste that doesn’t drink it’s 6.8%. Perhaps a touch of extra aging has assisted in this regard. Certainly, I’ll be doing a spring clean of the cellar to find more.
There was another Molson Coors beer, in fact two of the same from their Worthington’s Brewery on the National Museum site, slumbering down there as well – Red Shield. One was new carrying the new (‘old’) design which is pleasingly retro, and the other, that inspired by the old ‘copy heavy’ White Shield design. So again, probably a year between them and it would be interesting to compare the two. Alas, both were disappointing. For a beer with a moderate and moreish alcohol content, and a good dose of Bramling Cross hop, it promises much. But the palate (in bottle form, I haven’t had draught for a while) is dominated by the Worthington’s yeast, with a tinny metallicness which unhinges its drinkability. Bramling Cross should give properties of many of the enticing US hops, but sadly they are not generously given here.
Hoegaarden Grand Cru was next; there were only two, mislaid as I had laid them down in a wine rack. I’m not sure why I did this at the time – no corks to keep moist here, but equally no adverse effect either. It’s a funny one Grand Cru; I certainly expect more of it, perhaps desiring greater difference with Hoegaarden itself, yet I always feel it’s an EPO fuelled version. Dresses the same; looks the same in the glass and is clearly a very similar beer….just, performs better. In fact, perhaps it’s more like Team Sky’s performance methodology, Grand Cru shows marginal gains across the piece – a thicker, creamier head with greater longevity, a denser body yet still with a that, almost orange shimmering, hue. And more cloves, more curacao orange character, more bananary esters. Actually, no. It’s been doping. It’s the Lance Armstrong of beers – impressive, award winning, yet somehow with the suspicion lurking that something behind the scenes isn’t quite right. Mind you, I had that second.
A couple of cans of out of date Bass and unbelievably John Smith’s, which didn’t make the cut and are now on slug prevention duty in the back garden. Yet the exercise was enough to have me thinking ahead…planning next Christmas and in particular, the leftovers.
© David Preston, Beer Tinted Spectacles, December 2012