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Thursday, 27 October 2011

Mikkeller @ Cask

Fuggles was very excited last Saturday, almost beside myself with excitement.  I couldn't quite believe that Cask Pub & Kitchen were playing host to my brewing hero - the legend that is Mikkeller.  It was clearly a sentiment shared by most others in the pub, judging by the respectful silence that hung in the air while he spoke.  It is rare to see Mikkeller on tap in the UK, although most good specialist beer pubs will have a selection of bottles.  You certainly won't see 12 Mikkeller beers on one bar again in a hurry.

Mikkel himself is an unassuming and modest type, whose mission in brewing is to keep making better beer, always push the boundaries and try something unusual - an ambition that's hard to fault.  What is perhaps most amazing about his modus operandi is that rather than run his own brewery, he 'rents' other people's breweries to produce his stuff of magic.  This may mean that no two beers are ever quite the same, but after all he doesn't exist to keep churning out the same beer year after year.  Although it seems this spark of genius may be borne less of creativity or financial acumen and more of pragmatism, Mikkel professing to a particular dislike of cleaning his equipment. 

What was particularly special about this meet the brewer event was the amazing atmosphere.  It was more like being at a house party (but with better booze).  Random conversations easily struck up with people at the bar, or the next table along.  The sense of excitement in this shared experience, and obviously a proliferation of opinions on the beers providing an easy common denominator.
So onto the beer.  I could list them all as great beers, but I'm not here to regurgitate a beer menu to you, so I'll just note my top picks.  Faced with the dazzling menu, and realising we couldn't drink it all presented some tough conundrums.  It should be noted that the inevitability of trying to drink them all hadn't even occurred to us, we were still quite sensible at this stage.

An early crowd pleaser was the "Nelson Sauvignon" (pictured at the top with "A Pale Ale").  Apparently one of Mikkel's own favourite beers.  A beer of high acidity, but still fruity, vaguely reminiscent of caramelised pineapple.

The "Double Shit Coffee" (or VB Kaffestout) was a beer to rival Dark Star's Espresso.  Rich chocolate notes on first tasting give way to a fuller bitterness, like chewing on roasted coffee beans.  A truly wonderful stout.

The "Black Hole"s matured in a variety of barrels were also tasty.  Our favourite was the Tequila, as it cut through the stout and lifted it, leaving a slight hint of Tequila at the end.

 And finally we come to what may have been our undoing.  But was probably just the straw that broke the camel's back (having worked our way up to it through the rest of the menu).  The "Black 2011" weighing in at an almighty 17.5% was just too tempting to resist.  I've had strong beers before that had little to say for themselves apart from their strength, but this was stunning.  Rich, meliflous and terribly naughty.  According to the Beer Gremlin, if they served beer in a den of iniquity (which I'm sure they would?), this would be it.

It was great to meet the man behind the beer, and sample so much of his repetoir side by side.  Whilst I am eternally grateful to Cask for playing host to my brewing hero, I would just make a small plea that you start serving his beer in thirds...

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Beer and Food Matching

Whether you're a regular experimenter with beer and food, have the odd dabble, or never tried it before, I really cannot recommend highly enough an event put on by beer professionals to learn something new.  That said, there's something equally satisfying about having a go yourself next time you're in a great cask or speciality beer pub.  Try something new, something you think won't work, it just might.  In this vein of adventure, off trotted Fuggles to South West London.

Billed as Battle of the Sexes.  John Keeling vs Melissa Cole.  (Or Fuller's beers vs non-Fuller's beers).  Six courses, each with 2 beers matched with it - one selected by Ms Cole, the other by JK, you judge and jury - which works best? It sounded like a gastronomic delight going down at the Red Lion in Barnes on 14th October.  And that was before we discovered that one of the "courses" contained 4 different charcuterie, each of which was matched with 2 different beers.  Those warm up drinks suddenly started to feel like a bad idea.

To start was a test of the time honoured matching of porter and oysters.  I must confess to never having tried this before - remaining in the curious but unconvinced pool of people.  Fuller's London Porter squaring up in this instance to Aspall's Premier Cru.  A lovely cider (or should I say cyder?) in normal circumstances, but in this case I found it wholly too acid for the oysters, and the warm comforting blanket of the London Porter coated the Oysters in a surprisingly silky way on the palette for me.  1-0 to John.

Onto "Course" 2 (part 1) - smoked duck breast with cherry compote.  Anchor Liberty vs Fuller's Chiswick.  I'm a massive fan of Anchor beers (see Beer Fest in a box for one of my favourites).  But when it came to pairing with the sweet and smoky duck the Anchor was entirely too powerful for the food, and the mellower Chiswick won out.

(Part 2) - air dried ham and fig.  Honeydew vs Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted.  Again, I found the Bitter and Twisted just a little overpowering for the dish, whereas the Honeydew pulled out the sweetness of the fig and exploited nicely that classic sweet and salty combination that is so moreish.

(Part 3) - salt cod brandade on ryebread.  St Austells Clouded Yellow vs Fuller's Discovery.  Melissa had it for me here.  Clouded Yellow is a great beer, but the real secret lay in the thin layer of horseradish between the brandade and the bread.  The spicy notes from the coriander in the Clouded Yellow teased this out perfectly, allowing the spicy flavour to linger on the tongue.

(Part 4) - Devils on Horseback - Chimay Blue vs HSB.  This was almost too close to call.  So I won't.

Main 1 - Yam Fatt Putt.  OK, I'll explain it.  Chinese style pork belly with sweet potatoes in a big yam doghnut.  Fuller's Past Masters Strong Ale vs Thornbridge Kipling.  Much as I love Thornbridge, it was way too hoppy for the sweet plum sauce of the pork belly.  Past Masters XX had it for me by a country mile.  Rich, sweet and mellow, I'd never have thought of pairing it with anything but a sharp cheese, but it surprised me by not being cloying with the sauce.  Nice pick JK.

Main 2 - Lahmacun (AKA spicy lamb pizza - sort of) - Fuller's London Pride vs Williams Bros Grozet.  For me the intensely herbal Grozet - the stuff that Williams Bros do best - was a clear winner here.  London Pride is a great session beer, but it didn't add to the food, didn't detract from it.  It just didn't interact.  One more to Melissa.

Dessert - Pear Tart Tatin with Fuller's Double Stout Ice Cream.  Dark Star Espresso against (you guessed it) Fuller's Past Masters Double Stout.  I love the double stout, it's a quirky stout, with some aniseedy notes, and really does the style credit.  But the espresso here with its intense coffee flavour and greater sweetness, almost like a tia maria, just toned in nicely with the dessert.  I think we're about 4 - 3 to JK now.

Digsetif - Chilli salted Caramel Tart - I loved this course, sweet, salty, spicy, so hard to match!  You need a BIG beer to deal with that, let alone add to it.  In the red corner, Fuller's Golden Pride, in the blue corner, O' Hanlons Brewers Reserve.  It could only be the bigger beer that won out in this heavyweight competition.  In this case it was the fruity, mellow, marmalade mitts of Golden Pride wrestling the chili caramel down your throat.

So 3 hours later, satiated in the extreme, I left the night reminded of three things.  Firstly that matching beer with food can be equally, if not more powerful than matching wine with it.  Although on the flip side it can also miss the beat entirely, which I find happens less with wine.  Secondly that Fuller's has a staggering range of beers.  We tasted less than half their range, and no two were even a similar style.  And thirdly and most importantly that experimentation is always a good thing, and life can only be the richer for it.

Many thanks to the staff of the Red Lion for the exquisite food, and Melissa and John for their careful pairings and tutelage on the night.