Thursday, 23 December 2010

Mull This Over Around Christmas!

To get you all into the festive spirit I thought I'd share this recipe I concocted for Market Kitchen - it got rave reviews on set so I thought it would be rude not to! 

I had already used the cider/spirit mix in a previous recipe and just put some orange, cloves and cardamom in the mix but when I came across Nick Strangeway's piece in Jamie magazine with Wass'ail punch with the spiced syrup I shamelessly had to nick the concept - it just works!

As an aside, if I don't get a chance to raise a toast to all you guys before Christmas may I just say sorry things have been a bit sparse in recent months, the book has been pretty all-consuming and I'll be a bit quiet at the beginning of next year too.

HOWEVER, save the date, January 20 in the evening for a special event that I'll be involved in (also don't make a resolution for a dry January either!).

So, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year all and, of course, cheers! xxx

Wass'ail-Inspired Punch
Serves eight cups - don't drive after drinking this!

250ml English cider brandy (recommend Julian Temperley's divine offerings)
250ml sloe gin (recommend Sipsmith if you can get it)
175ml juicing orange juice (not sweet eating oranges)
175ml lemon juice
500ml good quality, strong, dry cider like Aspall Premier Cru

Spicy syrup (concept pinched from cocktail king Nick Strangeway):
1/2 a cinnamon stick
1 lightly cracked cardamom pod
1 star anise
a quick grate of nutmeg
175g vanilla sugar
250ml of water

To Serve:
Apple chunks
1 clementine studded with five cloves
Vanilla sugar

First make the syrup by adding all the ingredients into a non-stick pan and reducing slightly until it coats the back of a spoon, careful not to over-reduce, burn it or get splattered!

Gently warm all the liquids in a large pan, not too much or you'll boil off the booze! Then add the syrup.

Warm your punch bowl with hot water, discard water, dry and then place the fruits & studded clementine in the bottom and pour over your punch.

Serve in handled cups/glasses with a lemon-juice wiped & vanilla sugared rim for a sour/sweet flourish

Monday, 13 December 2010

A Nod in the Wrong Direction

Before I start this article I'd just like to say that a) you should probably read the original article that I'm responding to first and that b) I like Caroline Nodder a lot, I've known her for years and we've shared more than the odd pint together over that time but I find her leader column in last week's Publican somewhat odd.

The gist of it is that, as a consumer, she doesn't want to be consistently bombarded with complete geekery, that she considers beer the stuff that greases the wheels of sociability.

That bit I get, I really do, there are days when I just order a pint, drink it and order another because I've got better things to concentrate on than the delicate earthy aroma of the East Kent Goldings (for example!), but her attack on brewers and beer writers that are innovating is either deliberately provocative or the mark of someone who has  become overly cynical about the industry they work in.

If the beer market hadn't started to successfully communicate beer's fantastic flavour attributes more effectively, using the language of food & wine writers, and celebrity chefs, then it was doomed.

This is because the new beer drinker demographic is the same one that already understands food descriptors and wine words and they don't just speak in the language of Jilly Goolden - who hasn't graced our screens in more years than I care to remember - they speak the language of Tim Atkin, Jancis Robinson, Jonathan Ray, Susy Atkin AND Jamie Oliver and they demand more of their beer descriptors than the lazy and slapdash use of the phrases hoppy & malty (shudder!).

But what really surprises me about Nodder's article is the section where she says:
"But I don’t see anyone out there really working on building a portfolio of strong modern beers, instead I see brewers showing off by tinkering with aged beers or overly strong ABV products, or shock launches a la BrewDog, when they could be building something that can change the very culture of the beer drinker forever."

So, can someone tell me what exactly it is that Dark Star, Thornbridge, Lovibonds, Meantime, Harvey's, Fuller's, Adnams, Sharp's, St Austell, Harviestoun, Marble, Moorhouse's, Otley, Breconshire, Rooster's, Kelham Island, Lancaster and countless others are doing then?

Every single one of those breweries I mention there has a strong, core range of sessionable beers that stand proudly as such on the bar - from London Pride to Hophead and Pint to Pale Rider every single one of these beers is award-winning and, more pertinent to Nodder's argument, profitable, but they are complemented by limited release beers like Brewer's Reserve or a limited release Imperial Stout here and there - which is a sound business model.

Why? Well as Nodder rightly points out, people's interest in all things craft and local is at an all time high so why would a brewery not want to take advantage of that by producing niche products that appeal to a niche audience alongside their wider appeal core range?

And whilst I can understand her frustration at some of the dumb stunts that have been pulled over the past few years by a few misguided brewers - or out-and-out pubicity junkies - you only have to look at the success of every single stage of the summer's Thornbridge meet the brewer tour, nearly every event BrewDog runs, Cask in Pimlico's constant draw of punters every time it does a brewery event, the White Horse's beer festivals (like the Old Ale one just past which had a record year) and even my humble lovebeer@borough business over the last few years to see that the special edition beers are the ones with draw for a growing audience.

And what's wrong with that? Uncovering hidden gems is awesome, it's something to share with your friends, it's an excuse to meet up and try what you've found or even Tweet about it for the world to see.

What Nodder has missed, and maybe it's because she so dislikes the world of geeks (as she is entitled to) is that breweries like Marble wouldn't be in the happy situation of moving into a brand new brewery and are still brewing all the hours god sent to keep up with the enormous demand for their products without the beer nerd network.

The shoe-gazing that she refers to, which she feels has been indulged by beer writers like myself, are often actually high publicity projects that pay dividends for breweries and the writer alike. Every time I go and brew somewhere I learn something new, which can only make me better at my job, and it's something I'm proud of - particularly when it produces something profitable for the brewery.

For example, the brew I did at Otley, thai-bO, was so commercially successful that it's been incorporated into the seasonal roster (sorry that sounds a bit boastful but it's true!), Pete Brown's book Hops & Glory and his epic IPA journey has helped put Worthington White Shield on more people's beer map in the last couple of years than any advertising campaign ever could and Stuart Howe's interaction with the geek network has seen him brew 52 beers in a year, some of which will now make it onto the Sharp's roster because they've been so well received.

I guess, in summation, what Nodder sees as navel gazing I see as interaction with interested consumers - what do you think?

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Miss You Kelly Ryan - Your Skype is Going to Be Busy!

Because I'm a disorganised numpty I didn't manage to post my simultaneous beer blogger tribute to the delightful Kelly Ryan (pictured left), formerly of Thornbridge, who is deserting us and heading back to his home shores of New Zealand with his lovely lady Cat.

So, as I'm nursing a fuzzy head from that last half of Alliance I thought it wise to drink at the Euston Tap at his London leaving bash last night, I thought I'd better get on it!

Kelly has not only been responsible for, or involved in, some of the most glorious beers to hit UK bars in the past few years, he has also been a rock for me personally and I hope one of the many huge hugs I gave him last night helped convey how much I appreciate that and will miss him.

Whether it was bouncing ideas around about my insane ideas for bonkers stuff like thai-bO or how to get rose flavours into a beer (a scheme not yet realised but it's coming!) he's always encouraged me and never laughed at any question I've asked.

No matter how stoopid I've been Kelly has always been unfailing helpful, cheerful, knowledgeable and fun (whilst managing to be pretty darn decorative as well!) and I hope it won't be too long before I share a beer with him and Cat in hobbit land.

In all seriousness though, our loss is New Zealand's gain so please, Kiwi brewing scene, take care of Kelly and nurture him - he's a star now but I predict we're going to see him become a far brighter fixture in the brewing firmament in years to come.