Tag Archives: beer

Real beer barm bread mark II

Barm bread

A few years ago, I was given a bottle of barm by my brewer friend Michele Sensidoni, of Mastri Birrai Umbri. For those who don’t know, barm is the yeast, and yeasty foam, formed by vigorously reproducing yeasts during the fermentation process in brewing. I used it to make some bread. Last week, I was lucky enough to visit Holler Boys, a new Sussex brewery, and meet its owner and brewer Steve Keegan.

Steve is a friend of a friend, and former managing director of Late Knights Brewery, which he set up in south London in 2012. It expanded fast and they opened several pubs, but things drew to a close in Autumn 2016. I’ll tell that story in another post soon, in the meantime, here’s another experimental barm bread.

I got up this morning – well, I was woken up by the Raver, 19 months, at the not too uncivilised hour of 6.50 – and found the dough crawling out of its proving basket. So, yes, this is one of those blog posts that talks about a bit of a cock-up, not an expert success story.

Barm

 

When we visited, Steve was busy making new brews and one of his conditioning tanks, named Wayne, was bubbling away. I asked Steve if I could have a scoop of the froth, the barm.

Barmy starter
Back home, I mixed with flour and water over the course of three days, much like you would feed a sourdough starter. It wasn’t that vigorous, but it was alive. The barm I’d got from Michele had involved a lot more liquid and yeasty bits. This scoop of bubbles, however, was a bit of a gamble, as it obviously didn’t contain quite such a density of yeasts.

Barm starter

In the evening of the third day – sounding a tad Biblical – I made up a dough. Here’s the recipe.

350g beer barm starter, at 100% hydration (ie, I fed it on equal quantities of flour and water)
8g fine sea salt
300g water
500g strong white bread flour

Ignoring the small amount of liquid in the initial scoop of barm, the total liquid in the dough was about 475g, the flour 675g, making a dough hydration of 70% (475/675 x 100).

1. Bring the barm starter, salt, water and flour together to form a soft dough in a roomy bowl.
2. Turn out onto a lightly oiled work surface and knead. Knead it briefly, form a ball, then put back into the bowl, lightly oiled. Cover and leave 10 minutes.
3. Knead again, put back in the bowl, cover and leave 10 minutes again.
4. Repeat a few more times then put back in the bowl, cover and put the fridge for 24 hours.

Before final prove

Now, this is where I went wrong. I wanted to give it a final prove in a proving basket, but I misjudged the liveliness of the dough – the barm starter had turned out to be more vigorous than I thought. I thought I could give it a final prove at room temperature (in this case 17-18C), overnight, for about 9 hours. I probably should have done it in the fridge.

Oops

The dough spilled over the edges of the proving basket, which was too small for the amount of dough, and stuck. It was overproved and had a bad skin where the dough had dried out. I was forced to prise it out (destroying stucture) and reform the ball, give it a short final prove, then resort to baking in a preheated casserole dish, rather than slid off a peel onto a hot baking stone as I’d planned.

I don’t think there’s any point continuing with a numbered recipe now, as it went wrong. But when I say “wrong”, I mean that I learned a lesson. If I can get hold of some more barm, I’ll know to trust it more for leavening.

The result isn’t what I was aiming for, and its crumb structure is a slight disappointment, but the flavour is good. Fran says she can taste a beeriness, a bitterness. T-Rex, three, enjoyed it too, until he decided he didn’t, and said “Yuck”. I’d like to think this wasn’t an entirely failed experiment: all I had to start with was a few grams of foam, it was fun and the results are tasty. I just got the timings wrong. Hey, I’ve only made real barm bread twice!

Barm bread crumb shot

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Harveys’ Old Ale and the end of the summer

Rev Godfrey Broster of Rectory Ales (left), Edmund Jenner and Robin Thorpe of Harveys (behind the bar)

In my last post I mentioned it was the autumn equinox a few days ago. This is the moment when day and night are the same length. And now the nights are, officially, getting longer. We’ve had a fairly poor summer here in southern England. May and June were lovely, but since then it’s been unsettled, frequently cool. After my two and half summers in Rome, where summer generally runs from April to October, I feel somewhat cheated.

That said, there is one bright side to the nights drawing in and the prospect of dark and damp from here through to March: Harveys’1 Old Ale.

I love Old Ale. It’s quite possibly my favourite of Harveys’ 20-odd beers (I think I’ve tried them all now; nearly at least). It’s dark and sweet and warming. If a beer can be cosy and reassuring, it’s Harveys’ Old Ale. It’s a beer that’s perfect to drink in a warm pub, preferably with an open fire, on a long winter evening. Robin Thorpe of Harveys called it the “classic winter beer”, and added that as September has already turned so cool and wet it’s fine to be drinking it already. Which suits me.

We got to try the first of this year’s Old Ale at a Harveys tasting last night, hosted by Robin and Edmund Jenner. The evening was billed as a Seasonal Beer Tasting, and was a highly informative run-through of the beers – and how and why they fit with certain seasons.

A trend of the past 30 or 40 years may have seen a diminishment of seasonal beers, with many ill-informed drinkers just quaffing the same generic industrial brews all year round, but Harveys is among the heritage breweries that maintains the tradition of varying production through the year.

The evening started, however, with Wild Hop, a 3.7% ABV light ale that’s a perfect light summer drink. I mentioned Wild Hop back after my tour of the brewery in June 2014, but Edmund told us more about the gestation of this beer, which they first produced in 2004 “in response to what we now call blonde ale.”

It’s made with Fuggles and Goldings hops in the boil, then dry-hopped with English grown Cascade, which are more modest in flavour and aroma than their New World counterparts. It also contains Sussex variety hops – which are a recent domestication of a wild variety, first discovered on the Sussex-Kent border. Ed explained how most wild hops simply don’t have the qualities required for brewing, but this hybrid proved perfect.

Fran, in her usual unique way, said the Wild Hop reminded her of Sindy dolls or Tiny Tears. Something in the aroma reminded her of nuzzled dollies as a child. I can’t say I could relate; maybe Action Man smelled very different.

Harveys beer tasting

Although Harveys vary their production during the year, their main year-round brew is their Best Bitter. It accounts for about 90% of their production now. Bitter and Best Bitter are quintessential English beers, and it would be easy to imagine we’ve been drinking them here for centuries. But Ed gave us more history. Harveys’ Best wasn’t produced in 1945 (instead they brewed 75% mild, 25% pale), only accounted for 7% of their production in 1955 and 45% in 1965. Today’s Best Bitter, in fact, only “re-evolved” after the Second World War.

Two wars seriously threatened Britain’s grain supplies, with convoys from North America harried by U-boats. When grain did get here, the priority was food, not booze. So barley wasn’t used in brewing so much and what was produced had lower gravity, and alcohol by volume. Brewers were required to keep gravity low, and indeed, the wars even resulted in the introduction of licensing hours to keep the war effort population more sensible in their booze consumption. Trends and tastes in beer change – mild is way out of fashion now – but war and law have also played a significant role too.

At the end of the evening we had a blend2 of Best and the Old Ale, and it was a cracker. I may be asking for this again, see if I can help encourage some pubs to start this practice again. Blending was the norm in British beer drinking until fairly recently.

As much as I love the Old Ale, the most pertinent beer we tasted last night was the South Downs Harvest. Like the wheat sheaf in my previous post, this is a celebration of the harvest, of autumn. It’s a light, biscuity golden ale – which is made with green hops, just harvested. As Ed said, it contains “something of this year’s summer.”

Among the other beers we tasted was Armada Ale, which was first brewed in 1988 to commemorate 400 years since the Spanish Armada. Harveys are great at such commemorative brews. Among their recent ones was the fascinating Priory Ale, brewed last year for the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Lewes. I talked about this herby, historical brew here.

Last night Robin raised their Celebration Cocktail – with Priory Ale – and said it was to celebrate numerous things happening in 2015: 800 years since the Magna Carta, the birth of Anne of Cleves (who had a house in Lewes, which you can still visit, and was born 22 September 1515), 75 years since the Battle of Britain, 50 years since the development of the famed Maris Otter malt and even Harveys’ own 225th birthday.

So much history, mediated through the medium of beer. Harveys’ production of such beers encapsulate various elements of local and English history. Furthermore, as Ed reiterated, their beers get their character from their yeast, the same strain since 1957, and the water, taken from a borehole into the chalk aquifer. It’s rainwater filtered through chalk and as such has a unique mineral character. Have a pint of Harveys and that liquid is our history, our heritage and our environment. It’s a wonderful thing. With all this on offer, how anyone can drink characterless industrial beers I don’t know.

Notes
1. They’re called “Harvey’s”, though it’s more generally rendered as “Harveys” these days. Luckily, as a double possessive apostrophe is a bit painful: Harvey’s’.
2. I’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating. Blending beers is also out of fashion, but not at The Jolly Tanners in Staplefield, West Sussex, where Ed says they call the practice “tosspotting”. For those who don’t know this minor English word, a tosspot is an idiot or a drunkard. With “to toss” British slang for “to masturbate”. Apparently tosspot has its origins in the 1560s.

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Sardinian holiday – sun, scrub and craft beer

A beach on Isola Caprera, Sardinia. Pic: Fran Hortop

Last week we went to Sardinia for a holiday. During our two years in Rome we tried to explore Italy, but it’s a disparate, varied and not always easily connected country so we left with a long list of places we’d failed to reach. Sardinia was high on that list.

Our friend Annely recommended Maddalena archipelago in northeastern Sardinia. We plumped for it without too much agonising as it seemed to fit the bill for us – beach, some wilds, and a fairly easy journey.

The islands have a long historical association with the Italian navy, and even NATO (a US nuclear sub ran aground there in 2003; oops). There is still a navy presence there, but mostly the archipelago is defined by being a national park, and a destination for people who like to play about in boats. We don’t do the latter – instead we stuck with buses and hiking on Caprera, a largely unpopulated island to the east of La Maddalena island itself. Giuseppe Garibaldi, the great unifier, had a house there, and indeed we saw his deathbed on a tour. I was more interested in seeing his windmill and forno (oven), both perched on a rocky hilltop.

Garibaldi's forno (under tree on right) and mill (left,without sails)

Pleasant surprises
After our days wandering the scrubby, aromatic macchia*, with its thickets of wild lavender, helichrysum, juniper, myrtle and cork oak and lying around reading by turquoise seas, we went back to La Maddalena port. There, we were very happy to find that one bar had beers from a couple of Sardinian craft breweries. Funny really, as this place – Bar Fiume di Serra Francesco – looked very ordinary but had the interesting beers, while a hip bar a stone’s throw away just had industrial crap beer.

One of these is Ichnusa – a lager that pertains to be Sardinian, and brewed since 1912. Thing is, these days it’s owned by Heineken, and I’d challenge anyone to really distinguish between the two, or a dozen other best-selling industrial lagers, in a blind tasting.

Macchia scrub on Isola Caprera. Pic: Fran Hortop

Real Sardo beer
The real beers we tried were from Marduk Brewery and P3 Brewing Company. All the ones we tried were excellent, and a great reminder of how exciting Italian craft beer is.

I’m enjoying being back in Britain, and having access to our dual cultures of traditional, CAMRA-endorsed, cask-dispensed real ale and lively US-influenced craft beer, but I really miss Italian craft beer. It’s such a dynamic scene, partly influenced by Italy’s food and drink great traditions, partly free of them and able to be experimental.

I love how I can drink something like P3’s 50 Nodi (“50 knots”) and not only get a whiff of the heady juniper macchia we’ve just been walking in but also get a whole long trail of heritage. It’s an Italian beer that’s called an India Pale Ale, but really it’s an IPA in part inspired by US IPAs, which have themselves evolved from the less intense older British IPAs.

The spiel on these beers is such fun too. This one says it has “high notes of caramel and intense floral, citrus and exotic fruit perfumes”. Me and Fran got pineapple and Parma Violets, among other things. Furthermore, “Il suo carattere forte deriva da una miscela di luppoli inglesi, americani e neozelandesi che vi accompagneranno in un viaggio sensoriale ineguagliabile” – “It’s strong character derives from a mix of English, America and New Zealand hops that accompany you on an incomparable sensory voyage”! Love it. (Those hops are Simcoe, Pacific Jade, Citra, Goldings.)

P3 Riff and Marduk American Pale Ale

We also enjoyed P3’s Riff, which they call a “Session White IPA” and, along with two (barley) malts also contains wheat malt, wheat flakes and oat flakes, along with four hops of US and English origin: Fuggle, Styrian Golding, Willamette and Citra. And coriander. And orange zest. All of which makes its presence felt, but in a neatly balanced mix.

Grow your own
While P3 is in Sassari, Sardinia’s second-largest city, located in the northwest, Marduk, meanwhile, is in Irgoli, in the east. Their tagline says they’re a Birrificio agricolo – a farm-brewery, or words to that effect. Another blurb in Il Fiume’s menu about Marduk says, “Le nostre birre nascono da un’accurata selezione delle materie prime che produciamo direttamente in azienda” – that is, “Our beers are born from a careful selection of ingredients produced directly within the farm/business.”

Marduk label

They grow their own barley and “diverse varietà di luppolo” (“various types of hop”) to maintain a close control on the process – and food miles. I mean, we were about 60 miles (92km) away but it was the closest craft brewery. We tried their American Pale Ale and American IPA, which were both great, though surely an APA segues into an AIPA? And surely these are uniquely Italian pale ales now anyway?

My local brewery here in Lewes, Harveys, similarly sources its ingredients locally, but this is something fairly new in Italian brewing, as hops weren’t grown there. When we left La Maddalena we had one night in Olbia, and found a bar that claimed online to sell local craft beers. They didn’t, but they did have a bottle of Nazionale from Baladin.

Baladin is the brewery that both started the Italian craft brewing scene, and the owner of the bar in Rome that introduced me to it, so it was nice to have a Nazionale – which Baladin developed to be the “first 100% Italian beer made with Italian ingredients.”

Marduk American IPA aperitivo snack

So all in all, very pleasing beer drinking on holiday. Even more so as we were back in the land of the aperitivo snack. Now back in England, we went out for a few drinks for Fran’s birthday yesterday at the Brighton Beer Dispensary and while the beers were great, the table did seem a bit bare without a plate of cheeses, salumi and breads. While Fran loved the cured meat products, I enjoyed the local Sardinian crispbread, pane carasau, sprinkled with Sardinian pecorino and melted. So civilised.

(I’ve written two more posts about this holiday: second and third.)

 

 

* In English, we use the related French word maquis for this kind of scrub. Not much point us having a word for it I suppose, as we don’t have any – it’s specifically a Mediterranean environment.

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Walking from Lewes to Winchester on the South Downs Way

Mist in the Weald, South Downs Way

Winchester, in Hampshire, is my home town but now I’m living in Lewes, in Sussex. Between the two is the ridge of chalk hills known as the South Downs, along which runs a path: the South Downs Way.

When we moved to Lewes in summer 2011, we walked a section of the Way to the southeast of Lewes, but since we moved back here this year, I’ve been wanting to walk to Winchester. We finally found a time in September to escape the building site and do the walk, happily coinciding with my birthday. After a cool, wet August, the summer came back in September and we had great weather. Three of the five mornings had thick mists, but these generally burned off leaving sun and views along the hills and north over the Weald, the lowland area between the South Downs and the next set of hills, the North Downs.

The south of England has been populated and manipulated by humans for millennia. The landscape of the hills was defined by centuries of sheep farming, which resulted in a unique ecology, plagioclimax communities featuring amazing selections of wildflowers and other wildlife. Much of this downland has been lost in England with the mechanisation of farming, but there’s still plenty along the Way. The human influence is also evinced by numerous hill forts , old industrial buildings, castles, tumuli (prehistoric burial mounds) and many, many cross dykes. No, not angry lesbians, but prehistoric earthworks that may have been territorial boundaries

Nature, history – and pubs
The other good thing about a walk in a long-populated part of the world is that you can go to the pub, something that’s not so easy on a backcountry hike. There were some great pubs along the way, and some great beers. A few pints of which, I would say, are well-earned after walking 20 miles (32km). We also stopped in a few nice tea shops, which, along with pubs, are – when done well – one of England’s great pleasures.

England’s B&Bs, on the other hand, can be less of a pleasure. There are some great B&Bs out there, and we stayed in a few lovely places, but they’re not the greatest examples of our hospitality. Aside from small, rubbish showers, my main grievance is the so-called “full English breakfast”. It’s all very well to pile a plate with sausages and beans and toast, but when all of that food is industrially produced, it just turns my stomach. Luckily, we stayed a few places that had their own chickens, ducks and pigs, so the eggs and pork products were good, but among the five places we stayed, only one served real bread, and only one offered homemade granola. The other four provided toast and “cereal” made from industrially used and abused grains. These are not good foods for your health in general and preparing to walk long distances specifically. B&Bs of Britain – make the effort! Serving real bread would be a great start.

In total we walked 88 miles / 141km, linking, the old-fashioned way, my current home and my childhood home. Here are some pics.

Day 1: Lewes to Steyning (21 miles / 34km)
Misty morning. Though this dew pond – one of many along the top of the Downs – with its one solitary tree looked handsome and moody.

Dew pond near Ditchling Beacon

Already done a few miles. I love topographic features with devil-related names. The Dyke is the grandest of them along the South Downs.

Finger post, one of many

Tea stop at the Hiker’s Rest, Saddlescombe Farm, before climbing up the Devil’s Dyke. A unique arrangement involving a small food truck serving cakes etc parked in a farm yard, with seating both outside and inside old feeding sheds.

Cake and coffee at Saddlescombe

Cup of tea at eminently cute Steyning Tea Rooms. Yes, it’s green tea with lemon, not your normal British black tea with milk. Cos that’s how I roll. Sometimes.

Tea at Steyning Tea Rooms

First pint of the walk, Long Man Pale Ale from Long Man Brewery, further east in Sussex, near the Long Man of Wilmington. We stayed at the Chequer Inn. Although it was a pretty standard pub, the beer was well kept – they have Cask Marque and SIBA signs – and the 15th century building had a lot of character.

Long Man American Pale Ale at the Chequer Inn, Steyning

Steyning has a very handsome high street, which remains fairly unspoiled except for that most reliable of taints on the modern human environment, the motor vehicle.

Steyning High St, evening

Day 2: Steyning to Bury (13 miles / 21km)
Started the day getting supplies from the Sussex Produce Company, which has this excellent selection of local beers.

Local beers, Sussex Produce Company

These hops were growing semi-wild on the edge of Steyning.

Hops - and convolvulus - Steyning

Wild chicory on the ridge above Steyning. If you like chicory and are interested in the various cultivated forms and their relationship with this wild one, I wrote about it here.

Wild chicory

Paths in the mist – or possibly fret, as a sea mist is known in Sussex dialect.

Tracks in the mist

An unusual WW2 bunker on Highden Hill, just after crossing the A24 London Road. It was apparently built by Canadian forces 1940-42, and was dubbed the “Tin Castle” by local schoolchildren.

World War 2 'Tin Castle', Highden Hill

Stopping at The Bridge Inn at Amberley (or more accurately, Amberley station / Houghton Bridge) for a few halves of  Hip Hop – a hoppy blonde ale – from West Sussex’s  Langham Brewery and some live bluegrass.

Hip Hop and bluegrass at the Bridge, Amberley

There used to be a ferry across the River Arun between Bury and Amberley. Walkers be warned – there isn’t a ferry any more, but there is a fine new foot and cycle bridge.

The old ferry crossing, Bury

Nice little village Bury. We had dinner at the Squire and Horse gastro pub where the food was good and the service very hospitable, so much so that I forget to take photos. I was drinking Sussex Gold, from Arundel Brewery, suitably enough, as it’s just down the River Arun. This light, smooth 4.2% ABV ale, which combined subtle lemon and caramel flavours, was just right for a warm evening, sitting outside watching dragonflies flit. (It really has been an amazing year for dragonflies here in southern England.)

Day 3: Bury to South Harting (20 miles / 33km)
Another misty start coming out of Bury, but it cleared very suddenly when we got back up on the ridge.

Another misty start

The Devil’s Jumps, one of the many wonderful prehistoric sites along the route. They’re a series of five bell barrows, a type of tumulus: that is, a grave (or not) created with a stone construction covered with earth. Fran had been having a bad day with blisters but a game pie cheered her up as did the amazing sight of a hare which ran across the path near the Jumps, closely followed by a stoat.

Devil's Jumps

This memorial is just near the Devil’s Jumps, and another fascinating bit of history. The South Downs Way official trail guide shows its weakness when author Paul just says “A German pilot killed during the Second World War perhaps?”. In fact, it’s a memorial to a 25-year-old airman who was on a Ju88 bomber, shot down by a British fighter on 13 August 1940, “Eagle Day”.

German airman memorial

We spent a very pleasant couple of hours enjoying beautiful late afternoon/evening weather – and Upham Brewery beers, from Hampshire, though we were still in West Sussex – at the White Hart pub in South Harting.

The White Hart, South Harting

Day 4: South Harting to Corhampton (18 miles / 29km)

The day started with mist again, beautiful as we headed back up to the ridge through these woods.

Sunlight through the morning mist in woods, near South Harting

I’m assuming this enigmatic bollard with a length of chain attached marks the county boundary between Hampshire and West Sussex. Why the chain?

Sussex-Hampshire county boundary I believe

The English hedgerows in September are things of great beauty. Among the many plants in these tangled, frequently ancient field boundaries is black bryony, Dioscorea communis. This is Britain’s only native member of the yam family, though unlike its African staple food relative, it’s not edible.

Garland of black bryony

After seeing a 20-year-old book about the Way illustrated with aerial photos, I was intrigued about the landlocked naval base known as HMS Mercury. Sadly, by the time we arrived, it’s all a building site for massive houses in a weird pastiche 18th farm cottage architectural style. This is Fran changing the plasters on her blisters just nearby.

Blister rest stop near the old HMS Mercury

This was our lunch that day. Local Sussex cheese and bread, though the latter was disappointing. My water bottle is a growler from Estes Park Brewery, which we visited almost a year ago.

A lunch

View of Old Winchester Hill from the east. Quite why it’s called Old Winchester, when it’s 18km from Winchester (itelf pretty old, with its own hill fort) is a mystery. One local legend says the Romans tried to build Winchester (Venta Belgarum) there, but every morning they returned to the site and found the stonework they’d laid had been rolled down the hill. So they chose Winchester instead.

Old Winchester Hill, Iron Age hill fort

Quick break on Old Winchester Hill, most of which is a wild flower meadow at the moment, helping mantain species that need grazed chalk downland and also helping the much-ravaged bee population.

Rest on Old Winchester Hill

The villages of Corhampton, Meonstoke and Exton all blur together. Two of them have pubs and ancient churches. Corhampton church dates from 1020. This yew tree may be even older.

Thousand year old yew, Corhampton Church

Exton’s church, St Peter’s and St Paul’s, is slightly younger, 13th century. This is apparently a gravestone (now located in the nave) showing the Angel of Death summoning a scholar from his books.

Angel of death visits scholar, Exton church

We arrived about 4.30pm. The pub, appropriately named The Shoe, didn’t open till 6pm, dammit. So we hung about in the churchyard until it did, then I had a pint of Wadworth 6X. Wadworth is in Wiltshire, so relatively local as it’s the next county to the  northwest of Hampshire. It was a solid, medium-bodied, malty, caramelly ale. Fran had Swordfish, a similar malt ale given a bit of bite with the addition of rum.

Pint at The Shoe, Exton

The Shoe is a great food pub. Desserts included that essential British (gastro-) pub classic, sticky toffee pudding. It wasn’t the best sticky toffee I’ve had (it wasn’t warm enough for starters) but the main coarses we had – venison and scallops – were excellent so we were in a forgiving mood.

Sticky toffee pudding at The Shoe

Day 5: Corhampton to Winchester (15 miles / 25km)
Leaving the lovely Corhampton Lane Farm B&B, where they both grow and clean grain, we scrambled down the back of their property. This vineyard was across the valley. The South Downs are becoming increasingly significant for wine production. I don’t know much about it, but apparently chalk and limestone are particularly good for producing sparkling wines – and that’s what this estate, Exton Park, does.

Vineyard near Exton

Not far to go now, getting back in the countryside I explored as a kid on my bike and on family walks.

Winchester 10

For those who know me, they’ll know I got a bit obsessed with dead bikes while living in Rome. This was a nice variation on a theme. What it’s doing alongside a path on Gander Down I don’t know.

Dead bike, Gander Down

Some more hedgerow bounty. It really has been an amazing year for sloes and blackberries. If we’d been medieval pilgrims of a lowly caste or abstemious bent, we probably could have walked the whole route feeding ourselves on blackberries and hedgerow apples.

Amazing year for brambles.

Reaching Winchester, we stopped at my favourite home town pub, The Black Boy free house, for a quick early afternoon drink. I had a Saxon Bronze from Alfred’s Brewery, founded in 2012 and named after our 9th century Saxon king, Alfred the Great. Winchester was his capital and from there he built the foundations of modern England. The Saxon Bronze is one of those new generation English ales that has the maltiness of a traditional bitter, but is informed by the crisp New World hoppiness so associated with the craft beer revolution.

Black Boy beers

And here is some serious caskery outside the Black Boy.

Casks outside the Black Boor

The end of our walk, on the steps of my folks’ place.

Made it

Now, I absolutely loved this walk. So much history and beauty. Fran had a wobble when her blisters were getting to her, but overall she enjoyed it too. My only regret is not doing one extra mile at the end and going to the Hospital of St Cross, a Norman church and almshouses, where you can request the “wayfarer’s dole” at the porter’s lodge. As we were genuine old-school wayfarers, it would have made sense, but as I grew up just near there, it felt weird to go there to blag a piece of bread and mouthful of ale.

Instead, we paid a visit to this wonderful gravestone in the grounds of Winchester Cathedral. Thomas Thetcher was a soldier who died in 1726, apparently because of his beer choice: “Here sleeps in peace a Hampshire Grenadier, / Who caught his death by drinking cold small Beer, / Soldiers be wise from his untimely fall / And when ye’re hot drink Strong or none at all.”

Small beer memorial

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A London beer jaunt

Beers at Crate

Yesterday, I took a day away from the building site that is our home to visit London and sample some beers with my friend Russell, of Hooksmith Press. It being London Beer City, along with the Great British Beer Festival and the London Craft Beer Festival, it seemed almost rude to not go to London and drink beer.

Although I lived in London from 1997 to 2011, I already feel like an outsider, a country mouse, when I visit. All major cities have certain consistent qualities – a winding river, a dominant old building, a hill – but cities that launder channel large amounts of money also change fast. London is no exception. The number of ego monuments going up at the moment is extraordinary. London was never a highrise town, but the money men seem determined to turn it into one. It’s just plain weird – there are only so many empty offices and flats for the mega rich one city needs.

Back down on the ground, however, another way in which London is changing fast is its beer scene. Small independent breweries are popping up right, left and centre. Back when I lived in London, there were very few. Fuller’s had, somehow, survived the culls and takeovers*, and still operated as a fair-sized independent, offering beers like the easy drinking, organic golden Honey Dew that helped me transition to ale appreciation. While Fuller’s was founded in 1845, new breweries were rare. One that led the way was Meantime, which was founded in 2000. Where I lived in south London, meanwhile, The Florence pub in Herne Hill began producing its own beers on-site in 2007.

The new beer scene arguably took off in London, however, with The Kernel, which started brewing in 2009. The growth since then has been incredible. According to beer writer Des de Moor, “By the beginning of 2014, despite a few losses, there were well over 50 [breweries] – a quintupling of brewery numbers over five years.” All this happening after I’d left the city. No wonder I feel like an outsider now, with all these new buildings, and new beers.

The first place we went to was Russell’s local in Leytonstone, the grand Red Lion (640 High Road, Leytonstone, London E11 3AA). Even pubs like this exemplify how our beer culture has changed the past decade. Part of the Antic chain, it has an excellent selection of beers, keg, cask and bottle, including Meantime and The Kernel but also Beavertown (purveyors of my favourite recent beer, Gamma Ray), Camden Brewery and London Fields Brewery. I’d never had anything from the latter, which was founded in 2011, so tried their Love Not War, cask. It’s reddish, with a fairly full, chewy, malty body and a big slap of hops.

Ex-Olympics

Canalside
That second place we went to was Crate on Fish Island, Hackney Wick, east London. This is an area defined by old warehouses, canals, 2012 Olympics facilities seeming to lumber on the horizon like weary daikaiju, grafitti and hipsters. Lots of hipsters.

I suspect fairly quickly me and Russ felt old. We’re not, really – we’re half-way between the twenty-something hipsters and the sixty-something CAMRA crowd. Which isn’t a bad place to be, as I reckon it makes us old enough to have some knowledge, and some memories of when beer was really bad, but young enough to be receptive to extreme hop forwardiness, weird adjuncts, and even beer in kegs and cans.

Indeed, Russ is more inclined to colder, fizzier beers from kegs (at say 6C). Personally, I favour the Great British pint hand-pulled from a cask, carbonated by the live, active state of the yeast, and served at cellar temperatures (say 12C). Luckily, the real beer explosion the past few years, and particularly in well-served places like London, means we can both be satisfied in the same bars and pubs. The old guard might poo-poo all keg beer, but you can’t argue with the craftsmanship of these beers.

Fish Island

We were both broadly after more hoppy brews so the comparisons were interesting. To my mind, 6C is still a bit too cold, neutralising some of the aromas and flavours, but as Americans will always tell you, colder beer is more refreshing. I reckon a keg beer, clasped in body temperature hands (37C ish) will get to just about the right temperature when you’ve drunk half a pint.

Crate, a brewery with a canalside bar and pizzeria, has been open since 2012. We jumped over a fence and sat by the canal, which was remarkably clean and only partially cluttered with dilapidated barges. Russ informed me these were the local hipsters’ accommodation of choice, and that it wasn’t unusual for them to arrive at the bar from round the corner in mini speedboats. This really wasn’t my London at all. The beer was good though. My Pale Ale was rich and almost meaty in its taste, along with hints of coconut, pineapple. Russ had the IPA, which was also good… though a bit cold and fizzy initially. We had to agree to disagree on this one. Being a New Zealander Russ probably can’t help himself.

View of Crate

Re-branding
After Crate we wandered around Fish Island some more, checking out the new Truman’s brewery, with its sign saying “Established 1666 / Closed 1989 / Re-established 2010”. I’ve got mixed feelings about this. Truman’s was a familiar name growing up even if I didn’t drink it, but I do wonder whether it was really necessary to re-cycle an old brand when you’re joining a new era of brewing and asserting your own identity with new brews. We went round the corner to the brewery’s tap room, The Cygnet, on Swan Whaft, another canalside location with a similar hipster presence and cartoony, grafitti-ish wall art. Here, the hipster boy serving couldn’t do the mental arithmetic for the change from a £20 note from two £4 beers, and the beer Russ had was the only duffer we had that day. It was an NZ Pale from Hackney Brewery. It was packed with NZ hops, so we had to try it, but it was badly kept, posisbly spoiled, and far too warm – around room temp, 20C ish, despite the casks being wrapped in thermal skins. I had Truman’s Lazarus, a 42% ABV golden pale ale that was delicious. The site says, “Lazarus is our celebration of the rebirth of Truman’s”, which again seems slightly odd when it’s all about the quintessentially American Cascade and Chinook hops – not exactly characteristics of traditional English beer.

Trumans

Afterwards, we  headed across town to meet Fran at the Cask near Victoria. Thanks for the connections, orange Overland. Public transport as it should be: rationalised, wide-ranging, clean and functional. Why can’t more British trains be like this?

I’ve written about the Cask before, but wanted to visit this evening as their part of London Beer City was a New Brewery Showcase and Meet the Brewers event. Of the six breweries flagged up on the flyer, one was Burning Sky, one of my two most local in Lewes, while Atom is in Hull, with the remaining four – Strawman, Hammerton, Anspach & Hobday and Bullfinch – being in London. Although the first one I had was London Session, from London Beer Factory, an outfit based on West Norwood, southeast London. According to a post on A London Beer and Pub Guide from June 2014, “London brewery count rises to 70 with the addition of London Beer Factory, who have just started brewing.” The beer was good and wholesome, like apple crumble and custard.

Showcase at Cask

Next up I had Strawman’s 3.9% ABV Saison, from a keg. Russ said it tasted of pears and almonds. Along with bubblegum. And “soap – the kind of soap you get in a B&B” and “Parma Violets” according to Fran, who was drinking Bullfinch’s Rascal, a 4.8% ABV session IPA that was massively hoppy. The site says it’s “Currently featuring Kazbek, Simcoe, Ahtanum and Colombus hops”.

Russ was drinking Burning Sky at my recommendation, but as I generally drink either Burning Sky or Harveys when I’m at home I was favouring the London brews. Though I did get to meet Burning Sky’s brewer, Mark Tranter.

I think we started losing track a bit by this point. Not because we were especially sozzled, but more because we were busy chatting, as we’d not seen Russ for years. And eating. The Cask is the only place I’ve ever been that can make the non-meat burger equivalent that is a mushroom in a roll into something really good, with stacks of halloumi. (I won’t call it “the vegetarian option” as just cos you eat meat doesn’t mean you always have to choose meat; I eat meat, but fancied halloumi more.)

Cask tariff

Our last round was all about the hops, with some almost eye-wateringly bitter beers. We had Hammerton’s N7 Pale Ale, which Fran said was reminiscent of “sweaty armpits”; then Anspach & Hobday’s The IPA; and Atom’s This Is IPA. Lots of astringency, sweat and sweeties, specifically pear drops.

Personally, I’d say the latter two were actually APAs, or British APAs, BAPAs, not IPAs. IPAs simply aren’t that aggressive, or at least they weren’t historically. It’s all in flux, and very dynamic. And really, with this half-day wander round London, guided by Russ, I barely even began to scratch the surface of what’s been happening since I moved out of London. I’m not sure how often I can justify going up to London to booze, but each time I do, the prospect of yet more new beers and new breweries is exciting. Sure all these places won’t last, and things will have to bed down to match the market, but what amazing times. It’d almost be possible to forget most of Britain is still dominated by shit industrial lager.

 

 

* CAMRA probably played a notable role in this survival. It had been founded in 1971 and within five years was a significant, influential body. In ‘Brew Britannia: The Strange Rebirth of British Beer’ Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey write, of CAMRA’s mid-1970s successes, “The rot had been stopped, and breweries such as Young’s and Fuller’s were no longer simply under threat but were booming.”

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Bad memories, skunkiness and the question of beer in cans

Beaverton Gamma

For many drinkers of real beer, the implications of cans are almost too terrible to contemplate. They certainly are for me. Cans remind me of buying cheapo industrial lager just to get drunk in the Winchester Cathedral Grounds as a teenager. As well as associating canned beer with vile industrial lagers, I always associated them with a metallic taste. I assumed this was not necessarily the vile industrial lager itself, but the packaging.

But all that’s changing. The challenge now is changing such preconceptions.

It is strange how abiding a prejudice can be, but if you learned to drink by consuming vile industrial lagers (or indeed snakebites), frequently from cans, and have memories of puking and hangovers, the psychology isn’t that complex. It’s just a kind of self-inflicted aversion. It worked too: I didn’t drink from the age of 18 to 24.

Times change
Anyway, the past few years, I’ve been increasingly encountering real beers, in cans. Initially I bridled when I was served  Angry Peaches from Garage Project in a can in a restaurant in Wellington, but this New Zealand take on an APA turned out to be delicious, and one of the best beers I had in NZ.

Angry Peaches meal md

More recently I’ve encountered a couple of other interesting beers in cans. When we were in Rome a few weeks ago, hanging out at Tram Depot in Testaccio, I was drinking Steamer (7.6% ABV). But it wasn’t as good as I remembered: I appreciate its depth of flavour and body, but it’s not well-integrated and always seems to be over-carbonated. Its recipe needs some tweaking. So I wanted to try the other real beer they were offering, something not quite as strong (it had been a long day, a long hot day of boozing and eating). This turned out to be something called Kurt (4.32% ABV), and not Italian but Swiss. I didn’t even know Switzerland had a craft beer scene.

Kurt 1

It was nominally from a brewery called Bad Attitude. Aside from any irony inherent in this name, the Bad Attitude set-up is a bit confusing. It also seems to be Ticino Brewing Company (aka Birrificio Ticinese in Italian, as the Ticino is Switzerland’s predominantly Italian-speaking canton). Which also seems to be related to another brand, Birra San Martino. The latter’s site says they were founded in 2002, but have called themselves Birrificio Ticinese since 2010. They’re all at the same address in the town of Stabio, but I can’t work out why they exist as three brands.

As for the straw-coloured beer itself, it was a bit weird. Despite being made with two hops from one of my favourite parts of the world – Riwaka and Motueka, both places in the north of South Island NZ – and some great British Marris Otter malt, most of all I got a coconut flavour. It’s not that I dislike coconut especially, but I just didn’t like it in a pale ale flavour profile. I know some beers have coconut as an adjunct, but Kurt didn’t, so I’d guess it came from an ester, those chemical compounds that give beers so many diverse flavours and aromas.*

Kurt 2

Retro-futuristic
The most recent beer I’ve had in a can I drunk in the beautiful evening sun last night. This was Gamma Ray from Beavertown. This was the beer I’ve tried from this brewery, set up in London in 2011, and it was very enjoyable indeed.

I do love British APAs – they tend to have the decisive characteristics of the more aromatic US hops but balanced with our traditional love of beers defined more by their maltiness. In this case the hops were Amarillo, Columbus, Bravo and Magnum (“added in ever increasing amounts at the end of the boil and in the fermenter”), though the bitterness was surprisingly minimal, without any particularly dry mouthfeel. The beer was rounded out and sweetened with not one but three malts, Simpsons Best, Caragold and Caramalt. Excellent.

Gamma can 1

The experience was enhanced by the can’s awesome wraparound wide-screen design, a kind of retro-SF horror tableau of goldfish bowl-helmeted spacemen being zapped into skullfacedness by flying saucers. Love it. Indeed, on an aesthetic level, one of the great points about cans is how they design can go 360 like this, unlike with the traditional front and back labels of bottles.

Cans versus bottles
The main arguments for using cans, however, are more practical. Mostly made from aluminum, they’re simply a lighter weight material and as such involve much less energy when transported, compared to glass bottles. From both me lugging stuff home from Twenty One Wines in Brighton in a bag to massive trucks carrying it around on roads, or shipments moving internationally (something that’s arguably absurd given that beer is mostly water, but that’s another argument). Furthermore, a bottle, when used once, involves a lot more energy to manufacture and then recycle – assuming people bother to even recycle.

The other big argument for cans is that they protect the beer from light damage. The traditional brown glass bottle protects the beer from light damage to some extent, but for those companies that insist on packaging in green or clear glass, the beer will spoil, will get lightstruck when left in daylight. The UV causes a reaction resulting in what’s called “skunkiness” – that is, a chemical process creates a molecule that’s closely related to those in skunk spray.

As for the issue of the beer getting a metallic taste, so synonymous with cheapo bad lager, most cans used for beer these days have a thin inner lining so there’s no contact between beer and aluminium. Certainly all my recent experiences with “tinnies” have been entirely free of metallic hauntings and the ensuing teenage flashbacks.

So I’ll definitely be happy to drink real beer in cans now. Which is good, as it’s becoming increasingly common. This US NPR article quote says, “five years ago, just a few dozen craft brewers in the US were canning, while today there are more than 500.” So expect to see more here in the UK too.

Having said that though, probably 60 per cent of the beer I drink at home is from my local (800m away) brewery, Harveys. Their (brown) bottled beer is sold with a deposit, so I just take them back and they reuse them. But most people don’t have a local brewery with such an enlightened (nay, sensibly old-fashioned – we always did the same with milk in Britain when things were more localised) approach. So for the abovementioned reasons, there’s probably no reason to poo-poo cans any more. Even if you’re particularly hardcore about your real beer requirements. The Gamma Ray for example was in a can and unpasteurised and unfiltered.

 

 

* My friend Michele, a food scientist and brewer, suggests the coconut odour and taste may come from one of two chemicals: from the molecule d-Decalattone  (C10H18O2) or from an ethyl group of chemicals (–C2H5), which are derived from ethane (C2H6). Srangely, the latter can present with odours of coconut, or pear, or wine.

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A week in Rome: Etruscan necropolis, Etrusca beer

Stone beds at Banditaccia necropolis, Cerveteri

We didn’t spend out entire holiday just eating and drinking. I made a point of doing a few day trips. One was to the Etruscan necropolis – city of the dead – of Banditaccia, a train ride, a bus ride and a surprisingly pleasant walk from Cerveteri, a town near the coast to the nortwest of Rome.

Banditaccia is such an evocative name. It makes me think of bandits and other unsavoury rural types using the old underground chambers (hypogea) to hide away in the middle ages. It’s quite likely they did too, though I can’t report that as fact.

The necropolis was established at the beginning of the 7th century BC, at least. I love this – you wander round Rome going “Wow, Colosseum…” but that particular monument only dates from the 1st century AD. Etruscan civilisation, which gave its name to Tuscany, was already remarkably sophisticated when Romulus and Remus were still just dirty wolf-boys shouting at each other, mythically, from huts on the adjacent hilltops of the Palatine and Aventine.

Etruscan pot, Cerveteri museum

Cerveteri, called Caere by the Etruscans and located a mile from Banditaccia, has a museum in the castle that dominates the centre of town. Even after all the best finds from excavations were filched by the Vatican, it’s still full of amazing finds, mostly ceramics. They show how closely the Etruscans traded through the Med, notably with the Greeks, as the art style is similar, as are the gods and mythological characters featured.

Multimedia hypogea
Visiting the tombs themselves, and imagining how they would have looked decorated with these urns and other funerary furnishings, is an amazing experience. The place was pretty much deserted when we visited, so a staff member was able to turn on multimedia installations for us in three of the hypogea. I have mixed feelings about all the holes in the tuff volcanic rock drilled so they could install projectors and speakers, but the systems work surprisingly well, lighting up the tombs and giving a sense of how these spaces were used.

What struck me, even centuries later, with the tombs mostly denuded of their decorations, is how homely they are. And this is just the point. The Etruscans created the necropolises as mirror images of the cities of the living. Each hypogeum was a home for several generations of family. The dead were initially body wrapped in cloth, then buried, or burned and put in urns. The hypogea consist of rooms with stone beds, and some even feature incredible decorations. The most famous example is Banditaccia’s Tomb of the Reliefs – amazing 3D designs of tools and utensils, for war and domestic work: those two most important activities of the living.

Tomb of the Reliefs, Banditaccia, Cerveteri (Photo: Fran Hortop)

As Fran pointed out, the notion of the tombs being the mirror image of homes is also expressed by the fact that these spaces, firstly large, rounded tumuli, then later in rows much like terraced housing, were carved out of the tuff. It was a process of creating a living space for the dead by hollowing out spaces in the ground. This contrasts with building a home above ground, creating space by erecting walls and roofs.

Terraced tombs, Banditaccia, Cerveteri

It’s interesting too that although the Roman Republic eventually subsumed Etruria, the final three kings of the Roman Kingdom were an Etruscan dynasty (in the 7th-6th centuries BC, though this period isn’t well documented). And as they had so much common culture, the guide we spoke to said the Romans respected the Etruscan funerary arrangements enough to leave the necropolises alone, even after they had effectively quashed their civilisation. Indeed, there were still new tombs being carved in the 3rd century AD. It was only later they were semi-forgotten, becoming overgrown. Although some did provide strange cave-like spaces for shepherds – and bandits? – over the centuries, most were lost and the area resembled a series of lumps and small hills in the 19th century, before Raniero Mengarelli started his systematic excavations in 1909.

Tumulus Etruscan tomb, Banditaccia, Cerveteri

It’s a wonderful place, right up there with Ostia Antica for my favourite ancient sites in Italy: partly because these two are just undersubscribed compared to the better-known Pompey and Herculaneum, but also partly because Banditaccia has a reminded me of its fellow UNESCO site Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Banditaccia – or at least what’s been excavated – is a lot smaller but both have a similar substantialness and sense of mystery. Angkor Wat is a lot more recent (dating from the 11th-15th centuries AD) but I love these places where ancient stones have trees growing through the weathered old stonework, itself carved with sheer manpower.

Etruscan beer
After visiting Banditaccia we went beer shopping and it seemed only right to get a bottle of Birra del Borgo’s Etrusca “archeo birra”.

Borgo Etrusca label

Etrusca is actually the name of three beers, first made during a fascinating project in 2012 by Birra del Borgo (in Lazio, east of Rome), Baladin brewery (in Piedmont, NW Italy) and Dogfish Head (in Delaware, US). The brewmasters of all three worked with Dr Patrick McGovern, an archaeology professor and director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, who had worked on various other ancient ale projects previously with Dogfish Head.

Together they established a list of ingredients that were consumed by the Etruscans. The Baladin site says, “Under Dr Pat’s supervision, ingredients have been selected on the basis of the findings made at several Italian archaeological sites.” According to a post on the Dogfish Head site, meanwhile, “the team clearly found that the Etruscans had a taste for ale.”

I know the ancient Romans drank beer, so it’s not a stretch to imagine the Etruscans did too true. Although grain-based beer is more associated with northern Europe, grain was of course grown in ancient Italy too, and the Dogfish site continues “The backbone of Birra Etrusca comes from two-row malted barley and an heirloom Italian wheat.” This wheat is ‘Senatore Cappelli’, which I saw in several Italian craft beers on this recent visit.

Italian society never underwent the seismic changes experienced in Britain during our comprehensive industrial revolution. Nor did it embrace as fully as Britain or the US the post-war approaches to agriculture based on rejecting ancient practices in favour of plying farmland with tonnes and tonnes and endless tonnes of petrochemical industry derived fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. Plus, pockets of mountainous Italy remain isolated to this day. Unlike Britain, where we rejected our heritage grains in favour of modern varieties bred by agri-corporations to thrive with said chemicals, Italy still grows some of the same varieties of grain it has grown for centuries. Cappelli, however, arguably isn’t such a grain: it was selectively bred from Tunisian ‘Jenah Rhetifah’ durum wheat at the start of the 20th century. It’s conjecture, but ‘Jenah Rhetifah’ may have ancient heritage, and may indeed have been related to grain traded or cultivated by the Etruscans. I don’t know; I need to consult an expert more. Or find some funding to bloody well do a PhD!

Weird and wonderful
The beer also contains various other weird and wonderful ingredients, based on, according to the Baladin site, “research carried out on Etruscan habits, as they would [have] spiced fermented drinks with hazelnut flour, pomegranate and pomegranate juice, honeys, sultanas, natural resin and gentian root”. The “natural resin” in question is probably what the Dogfish site refers to as “the sarsaparilla-like Ethiopian myrrh resin.” The myrrh and gentian are the bittering agents, though the recipe does also include a “handful of whole-flower hops”.

Recording cultivation of hops in Europe didn’t come until centuries later, though as Humulus lupulus is native to Eurasia and north Africa there’s the chance it was utilised by the Etruscans. Wondering about this, I sent an email to Dr McGovern, the “Indiana Jones of ancient ales, wines, and extreme beverages”. Though busy on a lecture tour in Australia he kindly replied and said, “There is some evidence of hops being found in association with beverages at Etruscan sites, but not much.” I’ve just ordered his most recent book, ‘Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages’ (Berkeley: University of California, 2009) so perhaps that will tell me more. Check out the article ‘The Brewing of Etrusca Beer’ via Dr Pat’s site here (a PDF download) as it gives more detail of the procedure, while a second article on the same page, ‘Ancient Italic Beer The archaeological finds at Pombia (NO), discusses the evidence of hop usage in this era, though it refers to finds from a “proto-Celtic” population in Piedmont/Piemonte, nortern Italy, that is north of ancient Etruria.

Birra del Borgo's Etrusca

So what does it taste like?
Evaluating the experience of drinking a beer like this is tricky as the story of its genesis is so fascinating it’s potentially distracting. Not only was the recipe created with Dr Pat’s expert input, but the three breweries used different materials for the ferment. Dogfish used some bronze plates in in the vats, Baladin used wooden barrels, and Borgo used specially made terracotta jars. This is appropriate given the importance of terracotta for storing liquids in ancient Italy. We were staying in Testaccio, and drank our bottle of Etrusca there, a mere 100m or so from Monte Testaccio, which is also known as Monte dei cocci – which could be translated as “Hill of the earthenware shards”. Yes, the hill is a massive mound of broken ancient Roman amphorae.

Suitably enough, given our day trip, Fran said the beer, which is a pale, cloudy golden colour, “smells like an old cave somewhere”, with all that nuttiness, fruit and fermentation giving a certain mustiness.

Dammit can't read the label

Fran got more earthy smells from it – mushrooms, humus (leaf litter not chickpea). I got a more sharp, sauerkraut smell, with honey. The taste was sour, honey, balsamic, metallic. Fran thought it tasted like fermented tomato juice: not that she’s ever drunk that, as far as I know, but it did have a certain minerally, Bloody Mary quality.

It’s not a beer to spend a relaxing evening with, perhaps, but it’s unique. I wish I could try the Dogfish Head version, but I’ve never seen any of their ales for sale in Italy or the UK, sadly. The comparison would be interesting, and Dr Pat says that he finds the “pomegranate and myrrh are more pronounced and better integrated” with the Dogfish version.

Either way, I love these historical experiments, like Harveys’ Priory Ale from earlier this year, commemorating a slightly more recent bit of history, the Battle of Lewes 750 years ago. Dogfish Head has produced a series of these experimental brews, with their most recent collaboration with Dr McGovern a prehistoric-style Nordic ale they’re called Kvasir. There’s more about their working process, and why we lost our inclination to make such diverse brews, in an article on The Atlantic’s site here.

So anyway, Etruscan remains, Etrusca archaeological ale recreations: what a great day. And far too long a post. I was planning to mention a few other beers I tried on the trip but that will have to wait.

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Filed under Ale, beer, Breweries, Discussion, Italian beer, Misc, Rome

Fritti, pizza, local Sussex booze – and chocolate pine nut ricottta tart

Slice with strawbs and cream

We’d been planning a pizza and local beer evening with friends here in Lewes, Sussex, for a while. This evolved into a pizza, local beer, local wine, local cider and Roman-style fried starters (fritti) evening, with the latter becoming viable after we borrowed a deep fat fryer.

We started the evening with an aperitivo of kir royales made with sparkling wine from Breaky Bottom, one of several vineyards we’re lucky enough to have near us on the chalk South Downs. I tried not to drink too much though, as I was driving the deep fat fryer.

Breaky Bottom

Missing these things from Rome, we did suppli al telefono, which are deep-fried balls of risotto with melting mozzarella inside; carciofi alla giudia, Romano-Jewish deep-fried artichokes, which I’d never done before, but worked very well (you trim the artichoke, remove the choke, then deep-fry it. Then deep-fry it again); and calamari fritti – fried squid bits, which I simply floured with semolina.

Fritti

Seasonal pizza
For the pizzas, I did about 2kg of dough. Here it is before and after its 24 hour prove. It was a monster.

Pizza doughPizza dough, after final prove

Then we made four different topping. One thing we learned from Gabrieli Bonci in Rome is to not be afraid to experiment with toppings, not be a slave to the canonical pizzas, and to use seasonal ingredients. It’s a great time of year for seasonal produce, so alongside the artichokes, the markets also furnished us with other good stuff like asparagus and radicchio. Here’s our pizza menu, typos and all.

Pizza menu

We were so busy trying to bake them and serve them – and drink our way through a very fine selection of further wines, cider and beer – we forgot to take any pics. The booze included Danebury Vineyards’ Madeline Angevine white (not Sussex, but Hampshire, though bought from Harveys) and various beers from Harveys and Long Man, the brewery named after the giant figure on the hillside at Wilmington, about 10 miles east of Lewes.

We did do one classic pizza, a Margherita, but otherwise we used seasonal ingredients and local cheeses and meats. For the latter, we used some smoked pancetta from Beal’s Farm Charcuterie, combined with local asparagus. The other two pizzas we did were bianche – white, that is, without tomato sauce. This is commonplace in Rome, but international pizza all seems to default to rossa (red), with tomato sauce. First, we did radicchio, fresh garlic and two cheeses from High Weald Dairy: their ricotta and Medita, a salty feta-style sheep’s milk cheese. Second, we did roasted baby leeks with mozzarella and Twineham Grange, a local parmesan-style cheese, aged for 15 months, which satisfies my need for a local cheese that’s good for grating on pasta dishes etc. We did use bog-standard mozzarella throughout, as no one’s making a Sussex version. Yet.*

Pie!
After all that fried food and stodge, what else did the meal need? Ah yes, fat and sugar. A dessert. After making a pine nut tart recently, I’ve been wondering about a chocolate version. As, like any sane person, I adore chocolate. Plus, we’d seen the High Weald ricotta on the market.

Side, through glass cloche

Anyway, the chocolate pine nut ricotta tart is based on a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis, granddaughter of the legendary film producer Dino and iconic actress Silvana Mangano. The original recipe was in cup measures. I tried translating these to grams using online charts, as well as using actual cup measuring spoons: each approach gave me completely different weights. This is why I’m not a fan of cups – for flour, especially, they’re inaccurate, as there’s the question of how compacted the powder is.

The resulting pastry was very crumbly and impossible to roll, so I effectively filled the bottom of a loose-bottom cake tin with it, as you would with biscuit crumbs for a cheesecake. Indeed, this is basically a type of cheesecake, though the filling is dense and very rich. After all that fritti and pizza and booze it was perhaps a bit much – or at least a big slice was a bit much. Perhaps it’d be a more suitable end to a slightly lighter meal!

You’ll need a food processor for this recipe.

Pastry
200g plain flour
20g polenta
100g pine nuts, toasted
35g caster sugar
Pinch salt
120g butter, melted and cooled slightly

Filling
110g water
150g caster sugar
225g dark chocolate, chopped
200g ricotta
8og full-fat cream cheese
3 eggs
100g pine nuts

1. To make the pastry, combine the plain flour, polenta, 35g sugar, salt and 100g toasted pine nuts in a food processor, blending until the nuts are well ground.
2. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is well combined. It’s unlikely it’ll ball up like a normal pastry dough.
3. Use the mix to line a 26cm loose-bottomed tin. I used a cake tin, though a flan or pie tin would work.
4. Put the pastry case in the fridge for at least half an hour, or for a day or so if you make it in advance.
5. Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan).
6. Line the pastry case with baking parchment then fill with baking beans.
7. Bake for about 25 minutes, then remove the beans and parchment and bake for another 10 minutes until golden.
8. Allow the pie case to cool while you prepare the filling.
9. Heat the water and 150g sugar in a small saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer to dissolve the sugar, then remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
10. Over a separate pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, avoiding contact with the water.
11. Beat together the eggs.
12. Using a hand blender or the food processor again, combine the ricotta and cream cheese, then slowly add the egg.
13. Continue beating or processing until smooth.
14. Slowly add the sugar syrup, beating or processing until all combined.
15. Pour the filling into the pastry case and bake, at the same temperature, until almost set – check at about 15 minutes.
16. Sprinkle the other, non-toasted pine-nuts over the top then continue baking until it’s all set and the pine-nuts are nicely toasted, another 15-20 minutes, depending on your oven.
17. Allow to cool and serve. We served it with some cream and macerated strawberries.

Cloche

A note on the food matching
Although we and our guests put together a great collection of local boozes, after the initial aperitivo I stuck with Harveys’ Knots of May. This is a seasonal light mild, reddish-brown in colour and only 3%, which I bought direct from cask at Harveys in a 4 pint / 2.4 litre plastic jug, aka container, aka rigger, aka growler, aka polysomething or other.

It’s a delicious beer, but I’m not sure its malty sweetness made for the best food pairing with the fritti and pizza. Something a little more acid or bitter might have been better for cutting through the fattiness of the cheese etc.

It did, however, work well with the desert. I’m still blundering uncertainly through the beer and food matching business but that malty sweetness, and light, low body, went well with the dense, chocolately pudding.

Little brown jug - empty

 

* There is a British buffalo mozzarella being made these days, from my home county of Hampshire, just to the west. I’ve yet to try it. Plus, mozzarella di bufala is far too good – and pricey – to use for melting directly on pizza. For that you use the standard cow milk mozzarella, known as fior di latte (“flower of milk”, “milk flower”) in Italy. Bufala is best added after the end comes out of the oven and allowed to melt just slightly with the latent heat.

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Filed under Ale, beer, Baking, Pies & tarts

Types of beer

Are innumerable: even the key styles have sub-varieties, or the names may have changed meaning over time and distance, or the same style may have different names in different languages or dialects, just to add to the muddle.

This list is just an attempt to consolidate my knowledge. I’ll keep adding to it, either as I learn more, or realise I’ve forgotten stuff, or when people correct me. Or to add images.

Abbey
Belgian beers in vein of Trappist beers, but without the official monastic supervision.

Ale
Generic term for beers that are made with top fermenting yeasts at warmer temperatures. Historically, ales were unhopped but not any more. Not for a long while.

Altbier
“Old beer”, a German (specifically Düsseldorf and Westphalia) dark ale.

Amber
Coppery ales that derive their colour from crystal malts.

American IPA
US evolution of the English IPA. Big, aromatic, bitter ales made with the distinctively citrussy, resiny West Coast US hop varieties: Cascade, Amarillo, Chinook, Simcoe, Centennial, Columbus. The quintessential beer of the craft beer movement.

APA
American pale ale. “The first true American craft-beer style, this took inspiration from the pale beers brewed in Europe and then made them American by using the hugely fruity hops grown the West Coast of the United States.” (Mark Dredge). On a spectrum with pale ales and American IPAs.

Barley wine
A fairly generic term, but basically an English style of strong ale, with 8% ABV plus. Indeed, at 12% some have a comparable strength to grape wine.

Bière de Garde
“Beer for keeping”, strong ale from Pas de Calais, equivalent to Belgian saison beers.

Bitter
Synonymous with English pale ale. Ales with wide variation in colour and strength, but most typically around 5% and golden-brown. By modern standards not especially bitter or hoppy, more defined by mellow maltiness.

Bière blanche
See witbier (below).

Blonde
Generic term for light, golden coloured pale ales of varying malt and hop profiles.

Bock
Strong German lager. The name, purportedly, derives from accent and dialect variables in Germany, where the place where the style originated – Einbeck – became ein bock (“a billy goat”). Variables include doppelbock (see below).

Brown ale
Fairly generic term for a sweet, brown generally mild, lower alcohol ale. More specifically an English ale type, originally.

Doppio malto
Italian birra doppio malto (“double malt ale”) can be seen as the equivalent of English strong ales or even some barley wines, or strong Belgian abbey beers, or Trappist dubbels. Italian beers are classified as analcolica (non-alcoholic, though technically low-alchohol), leggera(light) or normale, speciale and doppio malto, with each category defined by its gradi plato – a measurement of density.

Dubbel
“Double”. Medium to strong brown Trappist ale.

Dopplebock
Dark, maltier version of bock (see above).

Dunkel
“Dark” in German, and used to refer to various dark lagers. More typical of Bavaria. Malty, not as strong as dopplebocks.

ESB
Extra special bitter. An English brewer’s highest original gravity bitter, after session/ordinary bitter (lower) and special/best bitter (middling).  Synonymous with premium bitter.

Faro
A type of lambic (see below). Made by blending  a lambic and a young, sweetened beer.

Frambozen, framboise
Dutch/Belgian raspberry lambic (see below).

Fruit beer
Any beer that uses fruit adjuncts. May be whole fruit, purées or juices. Kriek cherry lambic is a fruit beer, for example, but others may be more convention brews augmented with fruit ingredients.

Geuze, gueuze
A type of well-carbonated Belgian lambic, made with blend of older (2-3 years) and young lambics.

Golden ale
Generic term for light golden ales, sometimes used synonymously with “blonde”. Arguably, golden ales have less body, and are crisper, more like lagers.

Hefeweizen
“Yeast wheat” in German. A type of wheat beer with low hoppiness, high carbonation, phenolic clove aromas. See also kristallweizen.

Helles
“Bright” in German. Distinguishes this lager from dunkel. Munich pale lager inspired by Czech pilsners.

IPA
India Pale Ale. Now a varied style (see American IPA) but original English versions were less punchy, made with older, mellower English hop varieties. The hoppiness originally developed out of necessity – its preservative quality allowed the ale to survive the long journey to British imperial India without going off.

Imperial stout, Russian Imperial stout
Strong (9% ish ABV) dark beer style first brewed in 18th century England for export to Russia. Brewing industry veteran Ian Swanson, teacher at the Beer Academy, said it was a case of the ships needing ballast as they went to Russia and brought back timber.

Kolsch, Kölsch, Koelsch
A light, lager-like top fermented beer from Cologne (Köln), Germany. Becoming popular as it’s easily accessible to lager drinkers, but is quicker to make, not requiring lagering (cold store conditioning).

Kriek
A type of Belgian lambic made with sour cherries.

Kristallweizen
A type of wheat beer: a hefeweizen that’s been filtered for brightness.

Lager
Generic term for beers that are made with bottom-fermenting yeasts at colder temperatures, and involve a cold “lagering” (literally “storage” in German) conditioning period, originally in caves or tunnels.Where caves or tunnels weren’t an option, winter ice was used to cool the cellars. This was superceded by refridgeration in the 1870s. Lagers were first brewed in Britain in Glasgow and Wrexham in the 1880s, but didn’t really start to take over until the 1960s. Despite German (etc) pride in lagers, it’s the culprit for some of the worst crimes against beer in its long history, and the reason I stopped drinking for years as a teenager in the late 1980s. Shockingly for a country with such an important ale history, the biggest selling beer in Britain since 1985 is a generic industrial lager. Mentioning no names. …. Carling.

Lambic
Distinctive beer style specifically from Pajottenland region of Belgium (southwest of Brussels). Relies on spontaneous fermentation and wild yeasts (like Brettanomyces bruxellensis and Brettanomyces lambicus) and lactobacilli, and as such is very different to other beer styles with their tightly controlled yeast strains. Various sub-varieties, like kriek, geuze, faro. 30% unmalted wheat. Winey and sour flavours. Hops used for preservation not bitterness, so often old and intentionally cheesy. Aged in sherry and wine barrels.

Märzen, Märzenbier, Marzen
A malty lager originally from Bavaria though now more generic.

Mild
Low gravity, malty beer from England. “Mild” originally referred to a young, fresh beer, as opposed to a more flavoursome old, or stale, beer but more recently can mean “mildly hopped.” X to XXXX strengths, historically.

Milk stout
A variable of stout (see below), made with lactose (milk sugar). Lactose is unfermentable so the resulting beers have a thick, creamy body with lower ABVs.

NZ draft, NZ draught
Common New Zealand beer style. A malty, minimally hopped brown lager with ABV around 4-5%.

Oatmeal stout
Stout made with oats alongside the malt, adding a smoothness.

Oktoberfest, Oktoberfestbier
Traditionally Märzen lagers brewed in March and largered to October. Now a registered trademark of six members of the Club of Munich Brewers.

Old ale
Name for dark, malty British ales, generally 5% ABV plus. Originally contrasted with mild ales.

Oud bruin
“Old brown”. From the Flemish region of Belgium, a malty brown ale with sour notes due to an atypically long aging process.

Pale ale
Generic term for ales produced with pale malts. English bitters, IPAs, APAs and Scotch ales are all variations on pale ale.

Pilsener, Pilsner, Pils
Type of pale lager that originated in the Bohemian city of Plzeň (Pilsen), now in the Czech Republic. Now many lagers made outside of Pilsen are considered pilseners.

Porter
Originally a dark, nutritious ale drunk by London porters in the 18th century, made with dark brown malts . A strong porter was a “stout porter”, though now the terms are almost interchangeable.

Pumpkin beer
US style, made with pumpkin flesh and often unveiled ceremoniously in the Autumn. Often spiced with pumpkin pie spices: nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. A type of vegetable beer.

Rauchbier
“Smoked beer” from Bamberg, Germany. Made with malt dried oven an open flame.

Roggenbier
A Bavarian type of rye beer with light, dry, spicy taste. Brewed with same yeast as hefeweizen (see above).

Rye beer
Beers featuring rye alongside the more typical malt (malted barley). See roggenbier.

Saison
A fairly generic French term (“season” ) for strong-ish pale ales. Saison beer evolved in the farms of Wallonia, French-speaking Belgium, where it was brewed in late winter, and stored for drinking by farm workers slaving away at the harvest and whatnot.

Schwarzbier
“Black beer”. German term for dark lagers made with dark malts.

Scotch ale
Scottish style of pale ale, malty but lightly hopped. Also known as “wee heavy”, apparently. May feature peaty or smoked malts, often fairly strong (6-9% ABV).

Session
Not so much a style as a strength: weak-ish beers (4% ABV or less, generally) than can be drunk fairly copiously in a “session”. Generally more about the (US, citrussy) hops than the malt.

Smoked beer
Beers made with smoked malt – which is dried with open fire. Not a fan.

Stout
Originally a British term to describe strong beer, such as “pale stout” or “stout porter.” Evolved and muddled up with porter, and came to be another name for dark (black-ish) ales. Remained popular in early 20th century when porters all but died out, before its revival in the 1970s.

Trappist
Beer produced by, or under the supervisor of, Trappist monks. As of 2014, there are 10 Trappist beer producers, mostly in Belgium, but also in Netherlands, US and Austria. Chimay most famous. Various top-fermented styles, classified as Enkel (single), Dubbel and Tripel.

Tripel
“Triple”, strongest of the Trappist beers.

Vegetable beer
Any beer that’s made with vegetable ingredients – like the US pumpkin beers. Another popular vegetable beer flavouring ingredient is chili pepper. Even though it’s technically a fruit (see fruit beer).

Vienna
Local equivalent of dunkel or schwarzbier, that is a dark lager.

Weissbier
“White beer” in Bavarian. A category of wheat beers that includes hefeweizens.

Weizen
“White” in German. Wheat beers, same as weissbier basically but a different dialect name.

Wheat beer
Beers (usually ales, see above) made with a high proportion of wheat – at least 50% – along with the malt.

Witbier
“White beer”, aka “bière blanche”. Wheat beer from the Netherlands and Belgium (predominantly). Tends to be hazy when cold, due to yeast and wheat proteins suspended in the liquid. Mostly feature gruit: a Dutch term (grute in German) for blends of herbs, spices and fruit used for flavouring and preserving certain continental beers prior to the popularisation of hops in the middle ages. Today these may well involve coriander and orange zest.

It’s one big happy fermented family! Pop Chart Lab, a Brooklyn-based design team have done some excellent visualisations of it, here and (a newer version) here.

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Thin air, good beer

And a little sunburn.

Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado

We’re currently in Estes Park, on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, an area just recovering from terrible floods in September. Today we’ve had an icy walk around a lake at 2888m (9475ft), played some crazy golf and stocked up on beer from Estes Park Brewery, which is at an altitude of 2292m (7522ft). This tickled me as Dartmoor Brewery claims to be “England’s highest brewery” – at 1465ft, that is 447 in sensible, modern metre measures.

Baby Bugler 2 pint bottles of Estes Park Porter (left) and Redrum Ale (right), with Rockies sunset

The air is thin for us lowlanders, but the beer is good, especially when drunk on the veranda of our cabin with the sun setting and coyotes howling. (It’s also the elk rut and we’ve had a lot of their eerie bugling. I even cooked dinner on our first night here with these massive deer grazing just outside the window.)

The Shining Ale, Estes Park brewery

Really enjoying the brewery’s amber ale, named Redrum ale. Yep, we’re in The Shining territory. Stephen King was inspired to write his classic story while staying in room 217 at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. The brewery even does a The Shining beer to further milk the connection – especially in this run-up to Halloween, a festival that reaches bonkers proportions in the US, compared to the UK’s more traditional shifting of Samhain/All Souls’ Day/Halloweeny activities to Bonfire Night, 5 November.

Tomorrow we head downhill again, but only to Boulder – a town that’s already a mile high. And has 25 breweries within county limits. I don’t think we’ll be visiting them, as we need more child friendly activities, but maybe I’ll be able to try a few brews in passing.

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Filed under Ale, beer, American beer, Misc, Travelling