Monthly Archives: September 2013

Pickle

It seems to be an Immutable Law that beer has an inferiority complex about its relationship with food. Inferior, of course, to wine.

In the late ‘80s, Michael Jackson used wine as a comparator to help people understand the breadth of beer styles around the world – a clever trick as comparison and copying is how we make sense of the world right from our formative years.  So it was remarkably successful but with unintended consequences. The main one is that the same comparison – a comparison with wine – is a tough one.  Wine & food has decades of normalisation, decades of unchallenged drinker acceptance, and decades of reinforcement by media, restaurateurs and word of mouth.

I protest too much. Beer need not worry: the breadth of beer styles, the flavour variations that come from the grist, the hops, the fermentation, maturation, the carbonation, and the interplay between these, mean beer should be confident. There are as many breathtaking food partnerships for it as for wine. Let’s rejoice and move on.

Breathtaking partnerships brings me back to the subject of ‘kickers’¹. The magic in a chat over a pint arises from that combination of slowly-slowly inebriation (that only a high volume, low alcohol product can deliver); the beer itself: its tastiness, its presentation; and the kickers – the chaperones of the beer experience.  We have a couple of great pubs near me; one is a local CAMRA award winner, but another does amazing kickers – in fact, in our socially responsible times, they don’t run a ‘Happy Hour’ with discounted booze but offer free kickers instead, a nice range, nicely presented, simply put out on the bar.  Hands down winner.

To my mind, if the kickers are great there’s no need for a meal. I’m going to eat them anyway, and if they’re good quality, why hold back? So recently I’ve been pushing the boundaries to discover new combinations. And pickles are the latest discovery:  pickles as in chutney, and pickles as in whole pickled veggies as an American might say.  Not just pickled veg neither –  pickled fruit too; even a – whisper it –  pickled egg perhaps?  (There’s a kicker in need of a rebrand if ever I saw one).  Look out for them, pickles are the accompaniment of choice in food telly land at the moment, so presumably in the real world too. Barnsley Chop with Pea Mash and Pickled Beats. Pork Belly with Pickled Baby Veg and Crushed Jersey Royals.

But pickles deserve to be more than mere accompaniments and with beer they make surprisingly great kickers.  In our Summer Retreat in Mallorca, the Tinted Family enjoyed a glass or three of pale beer that were served with gherkins (Cornichons?  What’s the difference?) and pickled roasted tomatoes.  The latter were a jaw dropping combination: tomatoes, despite their ubiquity can be tricky buggers to pair with, but this was a riveting success, with smokiness, tartness and sweetness rolled into one. It was an ironic shame that the beer was quaffable but bland.

It has sparked pickling madness: Kilner Jars are being acquired on ebay. Unusual ingredients are being snuck into the shopping basket. Questions are being asked about why we need industrial quantities of white wine vinegar.  But the real revelation is that you can pickle with beer (forgive me if I am slow to the party!).  I have some refrigerator pickles maturing now that feature a malty glug of aged White Shield. And this weekend saw a chutney being concocted featuring another White Shield Brewing Company beer – ‘E’.  Fresh from the pot, it was spicy and sharp but with a rich, chestnutty smoothness that comes from the beer, whilst the spices still ring through.  The rest is now sitting in the cellar, maturing nicely with any luck. Next weekend features refrigerator pickles, ideal to be eaten straight with a glass of pale ale, or porter perhaps. If I sound surprised by all this, I suppose I shouldn’t; surely it’s natural that a fermented product should sit well with another?IMG_0476

So when you have a small dish of smoked pickles to accompany your pint next time, remember. You heard it here first.

© Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2013

Worthington ‘E’ chutney with roast tomatoes, red onion, raisins and squash.  It may not be a looker, but by heck, it’s a taster.

 

¹ See ‘In Search of the Perfect Kicker’ (http://www.beertintedspectacles.com/?p=112)

The Session #79: U.S. vs Old World Beer Culture

The Session, a.k.a. ‘Beer Blogging Friday’, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. This month’s topic is hosted by Dingsbeerblog (http://www.dingsbeerblog.com)

The Session ImageIn the late 1980’s, three strands interwove at a crucial time for me which triggered my interest and enthusiasm for beer. The first was family – my older brother, in his first radical phase was an unwitting early proponent of slow food, and as he was building his knowledge of food, wine and to a lesser extent beer whilst at University his influence rubbed off on his younger brother when he came home.  The second was friends: Dave Wilkes and his home brew to be exact. I’m not sure where Dave’s passion for home brew emerged, but what I do know is that it was a consistently deep brown, nutty concoction, served straight from the cask (something I hadn’t seen at that point in my hitherto sheltered life) and weighing in at what I’m guessing to be about 15% ABV¹.  The third strand was the emergence in America of a beer tea party: new, interesting brews, attempting to throw overboard the homogeneity of typical US offerings.  To a late teen in provincial UK, this was not learnt first hand.  Rather, the source was Michael Jackson of course, both through a much thumbed copy of ‘The New World Guide to Beer’ and also through the particular episode of ‘The Beer Hunter’² where Michael travels to west coast USA and vividly brings to life this new narrative of US craft beer. As he takes the trip to the tip of northern California to celebrate the barley harvest with all the Anchor Steam workers, my beer idyll is born.

IMG_0444Over 20 years on, as I read Tim Acitelli’s excellent ‘The Audacity of Hops’ – an almost 50 year history of American craft beer, I realise how much each ‘culture’ is indebted to the other.  If you can call it that of course:  I’m not sure anyone in the ‘Old World’ would see much a shared tradition between say English beer culture and Bavarian beer culture – an important point when you see how the different European nations individually influenced the US scene.  The first wave was largely inspired by English pale ale:  could the early craft brewers like Jack McAuliffe create domestically brewed pale ale as flavoursome, as full on those he had drunk on his British travels? The name above the door giving away his influences: New Albion. Could Pete Slosberg devise a recipe as enticing as the brown ales he had drunk on his travels in Europe (I didn’t realise that the resultant, massively successful beer, ‘Pete’s Wicked Ale’ is no longer available)? Then later, wider European influence took hold, kick-started by Jim Koch reliably recreating his grandfather’s recipe for a Bavarian lagered beer in the form of Sam Adams Boston Lager but quickly and rapidly spreading into replicating, and attempting to better, beers from Belgium, Germany, France and beyond.

IMG_0442I’m conscious of my own biases around beer and particularly my orientation toward well brewed and properly lagered Czech and Bavarian lagers and feisty and flavoursome US pale ales and IPAs in particular; but actually portraying a picture of the ‘Old World’ and ‘New World’ as a battle: us versus them isn’t overly helpful.  The reality, as is so often the case, is defined more by the similarities than the differences.  Riddled through both cultures are defining traits: a trigger event – a burning platform that great, idiosyncratic, varied beer was close to dying out. In the US’s case, Fritz Maytag heard about the brewery days before it was due to close down. In the UK, the dawning realisation that cask beer (and the infrastructure that supports it) was facing the same fate. Struggle – it’s easy to forget the perseverance, grit, setbacks and failures along the way. Many of the original wave of US craft brewers simply didn’t make it through the first wave of growth, starved of cash, resources, time or capital, they had to either close or stay niche. Most went under. It’s why I fear the same for many of the UK’s current crop of micro brewers. Time – it’s almost 50 years now since Fritz Maytag bought Anchor. It’s over ten years now since Gordon Brown introduced the progressive beer duty, the so called ‘Small Brewers Duty Relief’ and yet, you could argue that for most drinkers here, cask beer still hasn’t entered the mainstream.  But more than anything else, what’s clear is how the Old and New World cultures are self perpetuating, each fuelling the other – the growth of craft brewing in Italy, inspired by the US, being a great example. I saw this for myself on a recent business trip to Milan, managing to fit in a short beer break after work one evening, and finding a craft beer bar that you wouldn’t expect to see this side of the pond – the most ‘mainstream’ beer available was Menabrea which enjoys, what? 2% of the Italian beer market?  Or the spread of US hop varieties to the point where a number of UK beer aficionados are actively complaining about their over-use versus traditional British hop varieties.  And finally, there’s the experimentation. The emerging narrative is that it’s a case of poacher turned gamekeeper, and the European brewers are only experimenting because of the boundary pushing of the US brewers.  True to a degree of course – but not solely so.  There’s been an experimental tradition in surprising and not-so-surprising European countries for many years – Belgium of course, but also in countries like Scotland, where brewing with traditional ingredients, or barrel aging is not a new phenomenon.

No, this is all a case of ‘and’. The real vibrancy between the craft brewers is the mutual support, the ready sharing of ideas and experience, the healthy competition that exists.  It’s a culture that’s worth celebrating and enjoying across the whole world.

 

¹The fashion in beer books is to tell how home brew ‘transformed my expectations of how amazing beer could be’.  With respect to Dave, this wasn’t the case, I think his home brew was a malt extract kit brew and it was pretty hard going. I seem to remember swirling my mouth out with a Heineken.

² Two links: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtmxXgKU1o0, the beer idyll is at the start of part 2, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36BUK7lv-iU

©Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2013