Golden Pints 2012

I’m joining in with the Golden Pint Awards.  It’s all just a bit of fun, I may not have tried all of the beers that you have, so here’s my 2012 in beer.  Thanks to Mark and Andy for organising it.

Best UK Draught Beer:

Winner: Magic Rock High Wire

Runner up: Buxton Axe Edge. Honourable mentions: Lovibonds Sour Grapes. Hawkshead NZPA.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer:

Winner: Buxton Imperial Black

Runner up: Thornbridge Raven. Honourable mentions: Kernel / Redemption Big Brick Red Rye Ale & Adnams Solebay Celebratory Beer.

Best Overseas Draught Beer:

Winner: Mikkeller Sort Gul.  Runner Up:  Ska Brewing Modus Hoperandi

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer:  Smuttynose Imperial Stout (2007). Honourable mention:  Russian River Pliny the Elder (thanks to @Toby_SR for sharing).

Best Overall Beer: Buxton Imperial Black

Best Pumclip or Label: Red Willow, a brand where less is more (sorry Toby, I couldn’t resist)

Best UK Brewery: Buxton Brewery. Honourable mentions: Magic Rock, Thornbridge, Kernel

Best Overseas Brewery: Mikkeller

Pub/Bar of the Year: Friends of Ham (Leeds).  Honourable mentions: North Bar (Leeds), The Grove (Hudds) and The Sparrow (Bradford) Fantastic pubs, I just don’t get to them often enough.

Supermarket of the Year: Booths

Beer Festival of the Year: Independent Manchester Beer Convention

Independent Retailer of the Year: Beer Ritz

Online Retailer of the Year: Beer Merchants

Best Beer Blog or Website: Joint Winners: Beersay and Oh Beery Me
Runner Up: Boak & Bailey. Honourable mentions: Probably Due to Network Congestion (pdtnc), HopZine, The Good Stuff, Ghostdrinker.

Best Beer Twitterer: @Filrd

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Black pudding scotch egg & Mikkeller Sort Gul (at Friends of Ham).  Also a superb meal at Mr Foleys back in April, cooked up by Tyler Kiley and matched with Brooklyn beers.

In 2013 I’d Most Like To: More beer festivals, more brew days to gain brewing experience, more beer in general.  Watch this space (famous last words).

Open Categories:

My ‘Go To’ beer: Hawkshead Lager

Most helpful brewers if you are a homebrewer and have an imagination that moves faster than your actual brewing abilities: In no particular order….

  • Dominic – Thornbridge
  • Jeff – Lovibonds
  • Matt- Hawkshead
  • Ol – Roosters
  • Jay – Quantum
  • James – Sandstone
  • James – Buxton
  • Ade – Saltaire
  • Gregg – Weird Beard Brew Co
  • Brian – Bitches Brew Co
  • Rob – Copper Dragon
  • Helpful homebrewers too, but too many to mention. You know who you are.

You’ve Got a Friend in Meat

Saturday night was the much awaited opening of Friends of Ham, Leeds’ newest bar and charcuterie adding more meat to the healthy bones of a thriving beer scene.  I received an invite having spoken a little with the owners via social media and having briefly met Claire Kitching when she was out and about sourcing beer.  There were a few bloggers circling the premises on the night and they will give you the full rundown of what you can look forward to if you get to visit.  I left my bloggers hat at home, resting on my notebook and camera…. I was unarmed.  The photo above is the only one I took on the night and is testament to the fact that my attentions were solely on having a night out.   Claire and Anthony (or Kitch as you may know him) have worked tirelessly to transform their new home-from-home into a sleek, inviting and comfortable space.

Along with Head Barman Tyler, Claire and Kitch have put together a very respectable selection of beer and if Saturday is anything to go on, then you’ll never be wanting.  On tap I enjoyed Redchurch Gold, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot and from the fridge Magic Rock High Wire.  I had already been at a brewery and visited a few pubs so had to leave it there.  This time around I missed out on tap-treats from The Kernel, Hawkshead, Huyghe, Magic Rock and Red Willow.

Neil over at Eating isn’t Cheating describes the food on offer much better than I could, but I did enjoy more than my fair share of Iberico Ham.  As I understand it, the food that was on offer was really just a taster and there will be much more in the way of breads and cheeses in the coming weeks.

Their clever strapline is A friend of ham is a friend of ours, and to that I say “A friend of beer is a friend of mine“.   Whether you are planning a trip to Leeds or just passing through, then their location on New Station Street is perfect.  I’ll be back there as often as I can make it, but don’t take my word for it, I recommend you go and see for yourself.

You can follow their updates on Twitter and Facebook.

The Sparrow Bier Cafe, BD1

I’ve written about The Sparrow Bier Cafe once before, and I wanted to post a short post as a special #FollowFriday as they approach their first anniversary.  To recap, they chose a location close to Bradford city centre, off the beaten ‘ale’ trail and despite my concerns they have thrived.  Within twelve months they have received awards from Bradford CAMRA for Pub of the Season Autumn 2011, quickly followed by Pub of the Year 2012.  Huge congratulations to Les and Mark for their efforts and for bringing something fresh to Bradford’s beer fans.  I was in there yesterday and enjoyed keg beer from Hawkshead and Camden, cask from Dark Star and Sarah Hughes as well as being spoilt for choice with their range of bottles, but settled on a Mikkeller single hop Summit IPA.  When undertaking such serious market research it’s important to keep fuel in the tank, so I ordered their tasty side of cheese, salami and pickles.  If you are localish or just passing through Bradford, I can highly recommend a visit.  Opening times and news of what’s on the bar @thesparrowbd1 and regular reviews from HopZine.

And a few more pics

 

Golden Pint Awards 2011

Best UK Draught (Cask or Keg) Beer:

Winner: Buxton Axe Edge

Runner up: Hardknott Code Black

Honourable mentions: Ilkley Mary Jane, Magic Rock Curious NZ

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer:

Winner: The Kernel India Pale Ale 100 Centennial

Runner up: Red Willow Ageless

Honourable mentions: Oakham Citra, Traquair Jacobite

Best Overseas Draught Beer:

Winner: Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout

Runner up:  Great Divide Rumble

Best Overseas Bottled Beer: Joint:  Stone Arrogant Bastard / Pretty Things Jack D’Or

Honourable mentions:  Stone Cali-Belgique 2010, Flying Dog Gonzo

Best Overall Beer: The Kernel India Pale Ale 100 Centennial

Best Pumpclip or Label: Redwillow brand/logo instantly recognisable

Best UK Brewery: The Kernel Brewery

Honourable mentions: Red Willow, Buxton, Hardknott, Magic Rock, Adnams

Best Overseas Brewery: Stone Brewing Co.

Pub/Bar of the Year: Winner: Mr Foleys (Leeds)

Runner up: The Sparrow (Bradford)

Honourable mention: The Grove (Hudds) – will feature heavily for me in 2012

Supermarket of the Year: Waitrose

Runner up: Morrisons

Independent Retailer of the Year: Beer Ritz, Leeds

Online Retailer of the Year: Winner: MyBreweryTap

Best Beer Blog or Website:
Winner: Ghost Drinker
Runners up: The Good Stuff, New Briggate Beer Blog
Honourable mentions: The Beer ProleHopZine, BeersIveKnown, Beersay, Boak & Bailey

Best Beer Twitterer: Joint: @Filrd and @BeersIveKnown always on hand with friendly banter and beer (and cheese) recommendations.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: The Good Stuff: SummerWine Diablo IPA with Baked Feta

In 2012 I’d Most Like To… visit the breweries that have kindly extended an invitiation.  Learn about brewing beer.  Brew more beer.  Await lottery win.  Sell beer.  Kick back.  Bad Back.  Employ Brew Monkey.

Open Category:

Most prolific beer rating site in the North West: The Ormskirk BaronCaptained by @Baron_Orm and ably assisted by @Christoper_R – keep up the good work chaps!

Beer and Food Alchemist of the Year: Tyler Kiley (@Tkiley1), Chef at Mr Foleys.  Oh and rumour has it that his triple cooked chips aren’t bad either.

Food and Beer Matching

Image from The Good Stuff

Food and beer, beer and food, there are plenty of eating establisments that are trail blazing, add to that a fair few people talking about matching the two and I reckon a lot more with a watchful eye on the developments to see how far this will go.  I’m open to the idea and have dabbled with tasting a few beers alongside some different cheeses and have to say it is a lot of fun and a useful learning exercise for someone looking to hone their taste buds.  (To the cynics: I do appreciate beer drunk on its own, oh and wine too!).

I have been trying my best to keep track of the recent coverage and have also taken a look back to see what went before.  I’m not saying that this all started in 2008, but as this is when the trail becomes warm, then I’ll follow it from there.

28th May 2008  the Guardian’s Word of Mouth Blog introduces Will Beckett their “Beer Guerrilla: a man on a mission to set the great British public free from boring beers” with his first article ‘Drinking Habits: pint of the unusual looking at apathetic beer choices.  Will’s mission to spread the word of good beer appears to have been decommissioned on or around 6th January 2009 having suppressed his fire through September and December 2008 including articles on ‘Beer with Gordon Ramsay and low cost alcohol.

Image from River Cottage

Jan 2009 Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a busy chap tirelessly campaigning for food issues in-line with his foodie passions, but he does occasionally cook with beer and notably worked alongside Hall and Woodhouse brewery (Badger Brewery) to develop River Cottage Stinger organic Ale.  This was his beer made with stinging nettles and Hugh says that it goes well with “summer barbeques and winter roasts“, a beer for all seasons perhaps!

Jan-Feb 2009 Oz and James ‘Drink to Britain’ series heroically journeyed the length and breadth of our fair land drinking as they went, and while they didn’t get into the food matching they did a sterling job of raising the profile of beer in general with visits to several breweries, including Saltaire, Prospect and BrewDog.

As far as I can tell from the internet, things were a little quiet for the next year or so, with Nov 2010 seeing Jamie Oliver‘s Magazine Issue 14 includes a drink recipe for a Beer Cocktail – Lambs Wool  which features Kernel Centennial IPA.  Nov-Dec 2010 Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s excellent ‘The Trip’ saw Steve commissioned by the food supplement of a Sunday newspaper to review half a dozen restaurants, with Rob along for the ride.  Sadly they were wine-centric,  but did visit The Angel at Hetton (which is well worth a visit) where they enjoyed a breakfast! so no beer there then!  Maybe the next series?

June 2011 Things started to move forward when Hardknott Brewery’s Dave Bailey started a campaign suggesting to the BBC that Saturday Kitchen should give fair representation to beer and maybe to act as a platform to take beer and food appreciation to the next level in terms of its TV coverage.  While there has been little progress with this campaign in terms of actual airtime for beer on Saturday Kitchen, I’d say it has been the catalyst in us seeing an increased level of interest in the wider media.  8th July 2011 Will Hawkes writes a blog Independent’s online Notebook section and featured Dave Bailey’s campaign.  5th August 2011 Chris Mercer Guardian’s Word of Mouth Blog followed suit and offered a comprehensive run-down on wine vs beer and did a nice job of playing devils advocate.  While mentioning chefs Tim Anderson and Ferran Adria and discussing the wider debate, he also gave some column space to the Hardknott Saturday Kitchen campaign.

19th August 2011 Des De Moor appeared on a  One Show montage after briefing them on the resurgence of the brewing industry and recommending some beers for their item on food matching.  What followed, in my opinion, was a calamitous studio review of beer with food, closing with Jay Rayner making it clear that he prefers wine, a wasted opportunity (but nothing to do with Des at this point, although if they were to try this again maybe they should get him into the studio).

November 2011 sees a flurry of activity:

Image from Leeds Brewery

I’m told that Jamie Oliver’s kitchen/set had a bottle of Kernel Beer in the background, and while this is just grasping at straws I’m hopeful that beer is in Jamie’s cheffing consciousness.  Oh look, it is!  1st Nov ‘Jamie’s Great Britain’ C4 series sees him spend a day with the Leeds Brewery most likely looking at their brewing operation before sampling the beer and food on offer at the Midnight Bell.  As with other chef’s if you Google beer and their name, you get similar hits – beef and ale stew, ginger beer, beer can chicken, beer battered fish.

4th Nov James Hall article in The Telegraph on East Yorkshire Pub named best in UK .  I wasn’t the only one to express my disbelief that the entire spread was devoted to their undoubtedly outstanding food, but not one mention of beer unless you include a reference to ale in their pie.  Just an oversight perhaps? ahem.

5th Nov Saturday Kitchen‘s recipe for Braised Beef Cheeks.  The wine expert (not Jolly Olly on this occasion) took their usual stroll around the supermarket and actually stopped to point out a bottle of Theakston Old Peculier as a food match possibility, but went on to choose a red wine.

7th-10th Nov Brooklyn Brewery‘s Brewmaster and editor of The Oxford Companion to Beer, Garrett Oliver, hosts a series of beer tastings and dinners throughout the UK, including events at Oxford Brookes University, The National Brewery Centre, Port Street Bar and The Cross-Keys.

Image from Thornbridge Brewery FB

11th Nov BBC1 Nigel Slater‘s ‘Simple Cooking’ saw Nigel, Tom (the Wild Boar Man (from Thornbridge Hall) and Jim Harrison (Thornbridge Brewery) cook a Wild Boar burger, with Boar fed with grain from the brewery, along with Jaipur Tempura vegetables.

11th Nov Will Hawkes in the Independent online showing that beer and food matching is gaining recognition.

18th Nov Will Hawkes published once again but this time in both the online and the paper editions, letting us know all about the editor behind The Oxford Companion to Beer, his recent promotional tour and a big thumbs up to beer and cheese matching.

If you have read this and think you might like to give this a go, then look no further than books from Garrett Oliver (Brewmaster’s Table) and Fiona Beckett (An Appetite for Ale).  Of course, if you want to dabble without the financial outlay then check out The Good Stuff, Eating isn’t Cheating, The Beer Prole, Gastroturf and CAMRA (sorry to anyone that I’ve missed).  Keep up the good work one and all!

Please feel free to make comments with anything I’ve missed and I’ll update the post.  Thanks.

I Will Follow You into the Dark

I’m enjoying my beer and relaxing into it a little more each month.  I have re-read a couple of my earlier posts and see my initial instincts were to hoard my beer and make sure nobody was looking before enjoying them all to myself.  I’ve always been aware of the merits of sharing and as I have previously explained, I’m aware that sharing beer is something that adds to the experience, but try telling that to the me of 6 months ago.

So tonight I have a wingman, he’s a beer rookie, whereas I’m more a pilot who still can’t get insurance, but flying solo nonetheless.  My brother-in-law Ben (@boodrums if you Tweet) has the enthusiasm about beer that will see him go a long way to quench his thirst.  He’s already been to Cask on the recommendation of some friendly Twitter folk and came home with his knapsack full of Mikkeller treasures.  He frequents the excellent Sparrow Bier Cafe in nearby Bradford, shops at Headingley’s Beer Ritz and I have a sneaky feeling that he’ll be hard to stop should he ever find out that there are online bottle shops.  During a recent chat he told meI’m not sure I like ‘dark’ beer…how could I possibly let that slide?  So last night we got together to try a few ‘dark’ beers to see if I could get him to retract such a statement.  I supplied the beer, he dutifuly adorned the table with cheese and oatcakes.  Don’t mind if I do!

After some much needed advice from the friendly folk on Twitter (thanks to those that chipped-in but especially Steve Lamond at Beers I’ve Known and the knowledgable Matt at Cheese and Chutney, Saltaire).  Ben brought along a mouthwatering selection including Steve’s recommendations of Vintage Lincolnshire Poacher, Tuxford & Tebbutt Blue Stilton, Old Amsterdam Gouda and a couple of picks by Matt in Smoked Wensleydale and Bronte Black.

We decided before we sat down that this was to be an informal session with no real agenda, other than making the odd tasting notes.  So we set about the beer in an order I felt would work best, made a few observations, chatted a while and then nibbled the cheese as we went to see how the choices worked.

First up was Ilkley Brewery‘s Ilkley Black, a 3.7% Dark Mild.  It poured black and had a red hue when held to the light, a small head which didn’t last and had very little carbonation as you could expect from the style.  Aromas of roasted malts and chocolate carried through into the first sip and had a good roasted after-taste.  When paired with the cheeses it didn’t really have the depth to stand up to any of our selection, with fairly dire results with the Poacher and Old Amsterdam, “wet dog” tastes will never be a winner.

Moving onto the Anchor Brewing Co. 5.6% Porter.  A firm favourite of mine and one I thought Ben would want to try early in his beer tastings.  It poured black and had a red hue when held to the light, lively head which lasted the duration of the drink.  With aromas of sweet caramel, black treacle, vanilla and woody notes it’s a beer you just have to keep on sniffing.  Its smooth, thick mouth feel and bitter/sweet balance is spot on in my opinion. Best match was with the Stilton, but a definite no no with the Poacher.

Some may say my next choice is the odd one out in the evenings line-up, but I had just received it the day before and was looking forward to trying it.  I also thought it would help break things up a little and it is a ‘dark’ beer after-all.  Hardknott Code Black, is a bottle-conditioned 5.6% Black India Pale Ale (see here for links before you comment).  Dave of Hardknott also explains that “Black IPA is completely contradictory and silly.  We all know there’s no point to such a beer, apart from to keep all those beer geeks happy“… and you can’t say fairer than that.  All said and done, it immediately brought a smile to my face, the huge citrus hit, mainly grapefruit, bursting from the bottle. Rather surprisingly it poured more a murky-browny-red but with a good head which stuck around.  Before tasting, the freshness and big fruity notes are in your face and led nicely to the punchy bitterness and gentle roastiness.   As it warmed in the glass the roasted malts came through much more.  My opinion was that aside from the Smoked Wensleydale, each cheese went well and more importantly the beer stood up to the Poacher.

The next choice was to be the Buxton Brewery Tsar, a bottle-conditioned 9.5% Imperial Russian Stout.  As with the Hardknott IPA, I was looking forward to finally trying this coveted beer.  It poured pitch-black and with an obvious oily appearance, the suspense was killing me so I got stuck in! The aroma had a fair bit going on with on overriding earthiness, peat, burnt malts and the alcohol was upfront and letting me know it was there.  First tastes brought liquorice and a roasted, smokey deep hop bitterness.  As it warmed a little the sweetness was more noticeable along with hints of coffee, 100% cacao and more alcohol!  A lovely drop!  At this point I had given up on the Smoked Wensleydale, and yet again the Poacher didn’t pair favourably.  This was fine by me and I enjoyed more of each of the Stilton, Bronte and Amsterdam.

Maybe rather naively I thought we should save the Summer Wine Brewery Barista until nearer the end of the evening due to its caffeine bomb status.  I think with hindsight this should have been drunk before the Buxton Tsar.  This 4.8% Espresso Stout announced itself with unmistakable honk of freshly brewed coffee, along with tobacco and whiff of ashtray.  Pretty potent stuff.  The result of drinking this after a 9.5% RIS is that the Barista came across as thin and reminded me more of drinking an iced coffee, strong iced coffee.  Its flavours were well-defined but as I have no reference point I can’t be sure whether this beer was spoilt by the previous beer or maybe I just didn’t enjoy it as much as other beers I’ve tried from Summer Wine.  To add insult to injury the cheeses didn’t get along well with this beer either.

To round the evening off I had plucked a bottle of The Kernel Imperial Brown Stout London 1856 from the back of my beer cupboard.  Bottled on 15th February this year, this 10.1% stout has received the plaudits and I couldn’t wait any longer to try it.  Whether it was the beer taking over or just a cumulative effect of the other beers, I didn’t make too many notes.  We both enthused over its luxury.  With flavours ranging from caramel and vanilla through to black treacle and dark chocolate and its smoothness in the mouth were just a joy.  Loved this beer! and I didn’t bother with any more cheese at this point.

All in all a cracking evening and something we will be looking to recreate again soon with a few other people involved.  I’m thinking beers of Belgium may be the way to go next time around.

Steve – my CABPOM would have to be Hardknott Code Black and Old Amsterdam Gouda.  It sounds like a Mission Impossible plot.  But to be honest I think I need to undertake further cheese/beer pairing research to get the hang of this.

Beer and Chocolate


Picture

Biere Belge D'artisans

There is a lot of radio chatter at the moment surrounding what appears to be the ‘new wine’ (only joking Leigh!), no not the new wine, just beer in its own right.  Not only beer, but beer and food, see The Good Stuff and Called to the Bar for some recent insight into this.  I’m interested in both of these culinary components and whole heartedly agree that there should be more food and beer pairing happening, although I have also met a skeptic, my wife, who cannot comprehend how anyone could drink a pint of fizzy beer with each course of their meal.  For the sake of marital relations and also as an ulterior motive for generally championing my rampant interest in all things beer, I refrained from a forehead-slap, although I did think of doing it and that made me feel better.  I went on to explain that there are many different styles of beer and that not all beer is fizzy and served in a pint glass.  She humoured me by listening with one ear while using the other to stay tuned to The Great British Bake-Off on the beeb.  My tired brain caught up with itself and realised that I could demonstrate my ramblings and disappeared off to the kitchen (and to the beer fridge – yes a dedicated beer fridge *smiley face*).  I wasn’t in the room anymore to confirm this, but I think she was glad that I’d gone.  Without asking (rock n roll) I pre-heated the oven and swiped the box of Gü Chocolate Soufflé‘s from the fridge.  I know these aren’t the real thing, but neither am I the kind of guy who can knock up a soufflé on demand.  So the puddings were in the oven and I reached for the bottle of beer I knew would come in handy some day.  Today!

PictureA few months back I bought a mixed case of La Rulles Belgian beers from Ales by Mail.  As far as I am aware Ales by Mail are still the sole UK distributor of these beers.  The case included bottles of La Rulles Blonde (7%), Brune (6.5%), Triple (8.4%), Estivale (5.2%) and two bottles of Jean Chris Numero 1 (6.0%).  It was the Jean Chris Numero 1 that I knew I was going to pair with this pudding and hopefully demonstrate the beauty of beer and food to my wife.  She likes chocolate and she doesn’t hate beer, so I knew I had a chance of proving a point.  The Jean Chris Numero 1 was a collaboratively brewed at the Brasserie Artisanale de Rulles along with Christophe Gillard, the owner of Miorge Mihoublon a bottle shop in Arlon (Belgium), and his friend Jean who is a local chocolatier, based in Habay-La-Neuve (also Belgium).  Jean created three praline chocolates designed to go with the beer, sadly I had to settle for a chocolate pudding, but was confident that it would still be a tasty match.The beer is a 6% Belgian Pale Ale, non filtered, non pasteurised and bottle conditioned.  It’s made with Pale Malt – Munich and single hopped with Amarillo to a pleasant 40 EBU (released in 75cl bottles).

Picture  So, the puddings were out of the oven  and the beer poured into two tulip glasses, I was proud to be showcasing the beer and my novice ability to match the two together.  I re-entered the front room and presented them to my wife, who turned to me and said; “I’ve just brushed my teeth so won’t have any this time”.  I masked my frustration and fought back a tear and decided the best thing to do was to eat both puddings and drink all of the beer myself.  Imagine if I had prepared one pudding and poured one glass of beer for myself, she’d have wanted some then! Unbelievable!  Anyway, the chocolate soufflé and Jean Chris Numero 1 where a brilliant match.  There was no fight between the fruit and bitterness of the beer and the sweetness of the chocolate.   Puddings finished, I still had a glass of beer left in the bottle so poured that to drink on its own.  It still poured the same deep gold and had a bready, citrus aroma, but it was now, without the chocolate to accompany, that I realised how sour the beer was, sour in a good way of course, but to my relatively unconditioned palate to the likes of Belgian lambics and gueuzes this was probably a good introduction to what you might expect from the real lip-puckering deal!

Thanks for reading.

If you have read this and used my links to the excellent blogs on food and beer and still doubt the power of this pairing, then check out some more recent examples of genius at work:
Check out  Eating isn’t Cheating for regular food and beer pairings and also recent media activities involving David Bailey of Hardknott (re: Saturday Kitchen) and Des de Moor’s valiant effort to assist BBC’s the One Show, although they could have used his input a little less sparingly!  Also, Raising the Bar and Gastroturf provide details on their International IPA Day Feast at the Dean Swift, London.

Brett a Manger – A Homage to Brasserie d’Orval

PictureDon’t you just hate those bloggers who think of a silly or whimsical subject title and then try their hardest to sculpt a blog post out of it? Who me you say?… how very dare you!  What I would say is, I’m no expert on this subject and may get some facts wrong, but it’s my genuine attempt to show my love for a great beer.

I am but one of millions of people who love and respect the Trappist Cistercian monks of Orval, their history, dedication to their cause and of course their very special beer and cheese.  Their product range consists of Orval (a 6.2% Belgian Ale), Petit Orval (a 3.5% Belgian Ale – only available at the Cafe near the Abbey and produced predominantly for the Monks at Brasserie d’Orval) and of course their mighty fine cheese.  The industrious monks at the Orval Abbey weren’t content with gifting us with heavenly beer, so when they are not busy maintaining historical buildings, forests and going about their daily lives, they also produce a raw, pressed cheese.  Some credit should also go to the Picturelay-workers of the local community who run the cheese-factory and brewery on a day-to-day basis.  (Availability of this cheese outside of Belgium, France & Holland is unknown to me?).

The first thing that you will notice here is that despite the clear opportunities available to diversify their range, the monks stay true to their calling, and their trade-mark produce serves only to support charitable aids and for the upkeep of their way-of-life.  Having recently watched a popular cookery programme (on tour) visit a similar Abbey, they were surprised to find an array of merchandise available to the public year-around and somewhat dubiously nothing was produced on the site of the Abbey or by the monks.  This is not meant to be a criticism of that or any other monastery striving to survive (financially), rather the reason for drawing this comparison is to highlight the tenacity and faith of the monks of Abbey d’Orval and as testament to their superb products.  The sad reality is that aside from the successes (in brewing terms) of Abbey d’Orval and Westvleteren Abbey, many of today’s monasteries and Trappist monk communities (as well as other denominations) are in decline.  The last-guard or generation of monks in some areas simply do not have the resources to successfully maintain this kind of revenue, yet our appetite for tourism beit genuine interest or a tick-box exercise and our craving for gift-shop knick-knacks seems to force a way into being fulfilled.  Interestingly, the Orval website says this: “The conditions for visiting the brewery are the following ones: to be “more than” tourists, having something to do with the beer distribution or coming from a brewery”.  While we would all love to try beers and other artisan Trappist and Trappistines produce from as many places as possible, and would not like to see such traditions fade, the real issue here is the plight of a religious order and the monks at Orval clearly feel they don’t always get the visitors or the attention they really need (although the income is well received).  Not a subject I would be qualified to comment on further, but a sobering thought all the same.

Enough of that though, what I wanted to do was to write a little bit about my love for a great beer, a beer that is in my ever changing top five, but will always be in there somewhere.  I make a point of having at least one bottle in the house ready to drink as the mood dictates, and a couple of bottles safely pushed to the back of a roof space (beer cupboard) where I can’t reach them without the help of a youthful sweep!  The tasting notes for Orval are well documented, (and I’m yet to try the Petit Orval), but I love the bready and slightly sour aroma and then the lemon and spice and sourness from the brettanomyces yeast (more so when drunk young).  But, age a few bottles and try after a year or so I’m told you can reap the rewards of your patience.  I’m a few months in and will report back when I’ve experienced it first hand.

Picture

Photo by Mark Dredge

Finally, when performing the obligatory Google trawl to see what has gone before me in a given blog subject matter, I happened upon Mark Dredge’s (Pencil & Spoon) post on FABPOW Orval & Orval Cheese.  Within this post he makes reference to ‘Orval Day’ at North Bar (Leeds) back in October 2010.

Updated 17/10/11:   I can confirm that #OrvalDay2011 is on Wednesday 19th October @NorthBarDrinks, Leeds.

So there it is.  My homage, (or frommage if you will) to Orval.  Orval the beer, Orval the cheese and most importantly Orval the community.  So raise a glass to dedication and its resulting perfection.


Hop Cross Buns

Should you find yourself wide-awake during the small hours, you may be familiar with the phenomena that is; the brain’s ability to decide that it is going to be a). it’s most creative, but b). to channel this creativity into some of the most random and off-the-wall ideas known to man.  Of course, and depending on the reason for your ‘wakefulness’, you will still be half-asleep so will most likely convince yourself that your idea is the stuff of genius.  You may also believe that you will remember this gem, only to wake in the morning to have a vague feeling that there is something that you need to do?!; or, you will choose to write this idea down having already experienced the frustration of knowing you thought of something extraordinary, but only being able to remember your dream about the dancing hot-dogs.

Well, unfortunately for you I chose matter-of-mind and scribbled down three memorable words that any self-respecting hippocampus would shred within seconds of processing them; ‘Hop Cross Buns’.Picture

That’s right people, the simple Hot Cross Bun but made with hops.  I make no excuse for yet another beer related topic on my beer related blog, even if the subject matter is on a slight tangent from what a sane blog reader may be interested in.  Anyway, my brain has taken my mixed up thoughts and gifted me with an idea that, according to Google, has never been attempted before? An idea that I’m hoppy to share immediately as its reasonable blog fodder and too stupid to make anyone any money…right?

Picture I’ve seen and tasted hops used in cheese and have since read that hop shoots can be eaten in salads, or lightly steamed/sautéed.  There will be more uses of this amazing plant within cooking/baking*, but I’m planning to bake myself some traditional Hot Cross Buns but with a Humulus Lupulus twist.  The fact that they will be called Hop Cross Buns just adds to the fun.  If they don’t work out then I’ll be moving swiftly on to hop brownies…as we all know that any brownie is a good brownie!

Check out;
*Trinidad Hops Bread – Trinigourmet.com
*Sourdough – Sourdough Companion
*Brownies & Cupcakes – Mike is Bored – Blogspot

So, should you find yourself with hops not as fresh as they once were, or odds and ends clogging the freezer up, then why not give these recipes a go and let me know how you got on.  I’ll report back on my Hop Cross Buns.  P.s. space-cake comments welcome.

Disclaimer: I do not condone the bastardisation of perfectly good brewing hops.