Tag Archives: ale

Beer – how do you like yours?

I haven’t written a great deal – if at all – about beer. Like wine, I know good beer from bad beer, but that’s about as far as my expertise goes. And like wine I do enjoy a beer or two. But what’s the best way to drink it? I realise that this is an incredibly broad question. It all depends on what kind of beer you’re drinking, where you’re drinking it, what with (if anything), why you’re drinking it – to refresh yourself? To enjoy your food more? To get immeasurably hosed? These factors all matter.

But there are two elements in particular that interest me – the glass and the temperature. Because, like with wine, these two factors play a huge role in the drink’s potential. “I quite like the Belgian custom of a different glass for each beer,” says food and drink writer Fiona Beckett, “but you can hardly do that at home”. Herein lies the problem. It is all very well acknowledging that each beer has its own identity and therefore requires a different vessel, but this is impractical for home drinking. Even in most pubs the options are pretty limited (if there are any options at all). Beer expert Rupert Ponsonby has particular beef with the dimple-sided beer mugs. “Every time someone drinks from one I go and find a flinted stone wall and bang my head against it, ” he excoriates. This seems like unnecessary vitriol towards something so symbolic of the good old-fashioned boozer. But it really just comes down to making the most of the beer. He goes on to explain: “Your mouth to your nose – those two interlinked sensory orgasmos – is 1 inch, and yet the distance from one side to the other of a dimpled pint is 3.5 inches. So every time any beer supper sups their beer from that receptacle they are losing 70% of the aroma and flavour of the beer.”

It makes sense. Beer is fast becoming as specialised and as respected as wine. Charlie McVeigh, owner of The Draft House, writes on his blog “we aim to do for beer what our culture has done for wine and food in the past twenty years – namely to take its sourcing, cellaring, selection and serving seriously.” It is, then, understandably a travesty to swill the beer thoughtlessly out of any old receptacle. “What is the point,” asks Ponsonby, “of using top quality cleverly roasted or kilned barley and top quality hops kept sous vide to keep the flavours fresh, if some muppet goes and offers the poor drinker what is, in effect, a bucket?” The glass isn’t just a conduit – it should contribute to the overall enjoyment of the drink.

And what of temperature? For foreigners Britain is infamous for serving warm beer, and certain ‘connoisseurs’ will insist that ‘real beer’ (ideally said in a Yorkshire accent) ought to be served at some uric temperature.  Not so. “The idea of ‘warm beer’ is a myth,” suggests Ponsonby. “Though older brewers do prefer their beer not too chilled, as chilling closes down the flavours”. This argument does hold some sway. You can test this with pretty much anything. Eat a cold tomato, then eat a room temperature tomato. See?

But isn’t a nice cold beer what you want? “Temperature should be cool cellar temperature,” says Beckett. “Room temperature is too warm and fridge temperature too cold for anything but lagers, pilsners and witbiers”. Ponsonby adds: “if you are drinking beer with food you need the beer to be a couple of degrees cooler so the beer cuts through the richness of the food.”

Plenty of ale for thought then. There’s a simple way of testing these theories. Go out and buy two bottles of the same beer (I chose Black Sheep ‘Golden Sheep’). Stick one in the fridge for an hour, and one in a cool place (not, like, a trendy nightclub – just somewhere with a draft). Take the cool one and pour it into a pint glass. Have a slurp, taking in what it smells and tastes like. Now pour it into a wine glass and do the same. Much better yes? The pint glass beer has no nose whatsoever, whereas with a wine glass you’ll find your head blown off with amazing, fruity, beery aromas.

Repeat the procedure with the chilled beer. You’ll find it refreshes you more and is crisper, edgier…but it don’t taste as good.

What do you reckon? A load of hokum? Would you dare ask for a different glass in a pub?

While we’re on the subject, this promises to be a cracking beer festival, with lots of local Yorkshire D-ales to sup on and enjoy the bank holiday. There’s your plug, Dad.

Beers on show include Black Sheep, Timothy Taylor’s, Rooster’s, Copper Dragon, Naylors, and Hambleton. All for £2.50 a pint.


Filed under Ramblings, Uncategorized

A White Christmas

This Christmas I challenged the readers of this blog to help me to rejuvenate what had become an all too methodical Christmas lunch. I wanted to eat something that went beyond our traditional and stale festive binge – nothing wildly different or controversial (I would never have been forgiven), but just enough to reinvigorate the day. There were some wonderful suggestions, from all over the world. Natasha’s fried carp with knedliky (Czech dumplings) sounded delicious but would have undoubtedly ended in a riot had it been served in favour of turkey. Alex, a Jewish friend, suggested latkas, potato pancakes eaten at Chanukah. Again, I was – I am – pathetic, and just didn’t dare produce these.

Some more conventional suggestions were embraced. However, after much deliberating I decided that, ambitious as I wanted to be with Christmas lunch, I didn’t really fancy the stress that would have undoubtedly been induced by attempting myriad dishes on Christmas morning. Doing turkey ‘n trimmings for 18 is stressful enough, so instead I dotted the various recipes around the festive period (there may still be time for more). They were all a complete delight. So thank you, everybody, for your truly inspirational input – you helped to make this Christmas much more fun.

Lambswool – with thanks to Nibbles for their suggestion


This is a medieval beverage, swilled no doubt by the gallon on high days and winter holidays. I tried it with ale, feeling that with cider (a more common variation) that it would just be like mulled cider. In truth it is probably nicer that way but it was still warming, aromatic and festive.

Makes 2 litres

6 Cox’s apples

25g butter

4 bottles good ale – Black Sheep or Landlord – otherwise good cider. White Lightning is excellent.

8 tablespoons brown sugar

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp ginger

Peel, core and quarter the apples. In a large cauldron, melt the butter over a fire that is not  newly ablaze, and yet has not lost all of its fervour, and add the apples and spices. Gently nurdle those golden orbs until lightly bronzed like the sultry curves of a Moorish maiden, then add the ale and the sugar. Stir well and heat until just below the point at which the bubbles breaketh the surface. Leave for the length of the second act of the Bard’s Twelfth Night and serve in warm goblets ye rapscallion ye.


Hot chocolate with chilli – with thanks to Ms. Alex

This is just the thing to drink on a cold winter morning. Chocolate and chilli are terrific bed partners – the chilli helping the chocolate to coat the throat with a deep warmth that trickles down all the way to your toes. Fight any resistance to this idea and give it a go. It’s fab.

Makes 6 mugs

200g good quality chocolate (70%)

1 dried red chilli, finely chopped and seeds discarded

100ml water

1l whole milk

4 tsp sugar

250ml double cream

A little extra chocolate for dusting

Break the chocolate into bits and melt over a low heat along with the water and chilli. Meanwhile warm the milk almost to boiling point. Once the chocolate has melted whisk in the milk and add the sugar. Heat for another couple of minutes while you whisk the double cream until softly whipped. Pour the hot chocolate into warm mugs, top with cream and a little grated chocolate.

Brussels sprouts with black pudding – with thanks to The Student Gourmet

Prepare the sprouts by discarding any grotty outer leaves, trimming the bottoms and cutting in half. Add to a pan of boiling salted water and boil for three minutes. Drain and rinse under cold running water for 2 minutes. You can do this well ahead (I did it on Christmas Eve this year and the sprouts were as green and fresh as ever).

Heat some butter or goose fat in a large pan and add some chopped up black pudding. Fry until crisp, stirring occasionally, then add the sprouts and cook for a further 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Serve.

Chestnut soup with chorizo and saffron cream – with  further thanks to the mysterious ‘Nibbles’

This is an adaptation of a recipe from the Moro cookbook.

Serves 6

200g whole Chorizo, cut into cubes

1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 stick celery, finely chopped

1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

1 dried red chilli, finely chopped

1 tsp finely chopped rosemary

1 tsp cumin seeds, crushed

400-500g cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped

1 tin tomatoes

1 litre chicken stock

2ooml double cream

a pinch of saffron

Olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and fry the chorizo until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon, reserving the oil.

Add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic and fry over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes, until lightly caramelised and soft.

Next add the chopped rosemary, chilli and cumin and stir for a minute or so, before adding the chestnuts, chopped tomatoes and chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, gently heat the cream and saffron together until the threads have dissolved. Set aside and blend the soup until smooth.

Whisk the saffron cream over a medium heat until it is a little lighter, then serve the soup with a few chunks of chorizo and some of the cream.


Filed under Recipes