Category Archives: Beer

Motherlovin’ Croque Monsieurs

I took some bread and toasted it. Then I fried one side of half of it in butter.

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Then, fried side down, I spread it with some bechamel sauce. Then a layer of gruyere, then ham, then more gruyere. Then the other slice of toasted bread, followed by more bechamel and more gruyere.

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Into the oven for ten minutes and boom, motherlovin’ croques.

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To finish it off, a bottle of Smokey And The Band Aid, the second in Buxton’s special reserve series. It’s an imperial smoked rye porter, but considering the hype (and the gorgeous label) I wasn’t terribly impressed. It poured completely flat and despite a fairly powerful nose with lots of peaty malt, the body just wasn’t there to back up the promise. The roasted, slightly nutty flavour went pretty well with the croque though, matching well with the nutty cheese and toasty brown sourdough goodness.

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Seriously though, there is no better combination of bread, cheese and ham on the planet. Crunchy and gooey, salty and nutty and redolent of Paris, even when you’re actually watching old episodes of Doctor Who on the sofa.

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Local beer for local people

Last week a whole bunch of beer blogs were talking about why local beer is, or isn’t, ‘better’. I thought I’d chime in, albeit a few days late.

Local beer, made by independent local breweries and maybe even using local ingredients, is not necessarily better. Some of the best beer in the world comes from Belgium, Germany, the USA and countries less easily associated with brewing. There’s some bloody brilliant stuff coming out of Norway and Japan, for example. Both ‘beer’ and ‘better’ have pretty broad definitions and it would be reductionist to claim that one element makes all beer better. Similarly, organic beer is not always better, nor is beer made by unionised workers. Furthermore, the ingredients are rarely grown in the same locality, and most beer travels reasonably well. A tomato from your garden will be immeasurably better than one flown in from Spain, but beer makes it all the way across the Atlantic without any ill effects.

Local beer is more valuable though. Local independent businesses, be they breweries, bars or shops (hi!) keep jobs and money in the local economy. If we extrapolate US statistics then for every £100 spent at a local business £68 stays in our community, as opposed to only £43 if the same money is spent at a national business. Every time you buy a beer that’s been made in your town you are helping someone in your community keep their job, which in turn means they can put their money back into other local businesses, including yours. According to articles that never state their damn sources, independent businesses are also more likely to pay higher wages and donate more to charity, which means lots of money going to good places.

Local breweries are also in a great position to keep traditions alive. While it’s exciting to see how beers like IPAs have been transformed by American brewers, most British beer geeks get a great deal of pride knowing that we invented it. Just like every Yorkshire person I know is proud of parkin and Yorkshire pudding. I’m proud of our rhubarb too, but that seems to be more of a quirk than characteristic. Lots of local breweries have a long heritage, for example the family that owns Black Sheep has been brewing near Masham for six generations and still uses the Yorkshire Square fermenting system that dates back 200 years. That’s pretty cool, isn’t it? I’d hate to see that become nothing more than a museum exhibit.

Not all of our local breweries are traditional of course, that would be boring. I’ve mentioned Magic Rock before and I’ll link to a few more at the end of the post, but there are loads of Yorkshire breweries pushing the boundaries and making exciting beer. Without our support they will fail, no matter how good the beer is. Breweries can’t afford to take risks unless they know someone will buy the end product, and unless they know they have a loyal local customer base they can rely on to support them. We get the beer we pay for, after all.

That’s not to say that anyone should buy bad or overpriced beer just because it comes from down the road. One of the great things about local business is accountability. Give a new local brewery the benefit of the doubt, keep buying something you like (sounds obvious but how many of us only drink whatever is new?) and if a brewery lets you down, tell them. Local breweries depend on their local customers so they will listen to what you have to say and be happy to engage in real conversation. You are far less likely to get a generic “thank you for your interest” email from someone who might drink in the same pub you do.

At the shop we get asked for local beers more often than we get asked for organic, vegetarian and cheap beers put together so it’s clearly important to a lot of people.

None of this means that local beers are better, or that anyone should drink them exclusively. It just means that they have added value beyond how they taste. I’m as bad as the next person for buying my groceries at the supermarket and my books on Amazon, and before working for an independent off-license I rarely thought about how I bought my booze either. Every time an independent bookshop closes down we all decry the evils of mass consumerism, Waterstones and the internet, conveniently forgetting that we never actually bought anything in the shop we apparently loved so much. We shouldn’t let the same thing happen to our breweries.

Some of my favourite more-or-less local breweries:

Magic Rock!

Leeds

Ilkley

Elland

Saltaire

Kirkstall

Ossett

Rudgate

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Magic Rock Magic 8 Ball

I’ve got a real soft spot for Magic Rock. They’re from my home town, in fact their brewery is a stone’s throw from where my husband lived when we first met. I took swimming lessons around the corner when I was a child. Not that it was there then of course, Magic Rock have existed for less than a year. They are lovely friendly guys and they make fantastic beer with a really strong identity, right through to their brilliant label designs.

I also have a soft spot for black IPAs, so I was eager to try Magic 8 Ball. There have been pretty mixed reviews of this beer, with some saying it’s a triumph, a symphony, the best black IPA ever to have graced the planet. Others found it unbalanced and lacking cohesiveness, a rare disappointment from an otherwise favourite brewery. Others just don’t like black IPA, but that’s their loss. I find myself somewhere in between. It’s not my favourite black IPA, but it’s close.

It pours a very thick opaque black with a thin tan head. The nose is a powerful mix of passionfruit, mango, peach and cut dandelion leaves. There’s a strong coffee flavour to it, but it reminds me quite specifically of the coffee we had in Cuba – very fresh and grown in the garden. The roasted bitterness is powerful and well rounded, though not especially long. Is there such a thing as rich freshness? This beer is both rich, thick and intense, and also fresh in the same way as juice from a ripe mango dribbling down your chin. That contrast is what makes black IPAs so interesting, and I think it’s well demonstrated here. Like all of Magic Rock’s stronger offerings the 7% abv is very well hidden, I’ve had to force myself to drink it slowly.

This is an extremely tasty and very well crafted beer and definitely worth trying, especially if you can find it on draft. But honestly, the same goes for anything Magic Rock make. Theirs is always the pump clip I’m most excited to see when I walk into a bar. I can’t help it, I’m a bit of a fanboy.

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Authentic Japanese Beer, and Very Inauthentic Noodles.

Brooklyn Sorachi Ace was one of my favourite beers last year. It was light and fresh and complex and ever so long. And I had one glass of it at a beer dinner then never saw it again.

Sorachi Ace is a Japanese hop that is grown in fairly small quantities, so beers using it don’t come around too often. It characteristically tastes of lemon cream and can either be elegant and interesting or remind you a little too much of curry. The Brooklyn version was the only one I had ever tried so when these little beauties came into the shop I had to bring them home with me. I mean, just look at them. That cute little owl is just begging someone to take him home and play scrabble with him.

Hitochino Nest Nipponia, on the left, is as Japanese-y a beer as you could ask for. Described as an ‘ancient’ beer, it uses a type of barley that was created in Japan about 180 years ago but abandoned in favour of crops with higher yields. Kiuchi Brewery revived it, then made this pale ale using Sorachi Ace. It pours a very bright gold with a light head, and has a characteristic nose of lemongrass and candied citrus. There’s also a bit of peppery, sulphury, raw broccoli in there, and an eggy vanilla note that made me think of clafoutis made with physalis fruit. All of this follows through when you taste it, as well as some hefty bitterness, and the rich, slightly thick mouthfeel brings out the buttery nature of the hops. There’s also something rather musty about this beer, and a strong herbaceous woody flavour too. Reading that back it sounds like a big bag of what-the-fuck, but I promise you I really liked this!

Mr Cute thought it was perfect for exploring a virtual radioactive wasteland from his armchair. My only real problem with this beer is that as it warms up the diacetyl, which is the chemical that causes that buttery taste, becomes a little overbearing. Too much and it can start to taste a little rancid, and no-one wants rancid beer.

To stay vaguely on theme I made a kind of laksa for dinner. Anyone from Malaysia would probably be disgusted by this, but it only took ten minutes and all the ingredients were in my corner shop so its perfect for supper after work.  The soup itself is just Thai green curry paste, coconut cream and stock, with fish sauce and fresh ginger to taste. Add a few cooked prawns and courgette and heat through, then ladle over cooked noodles. Top with coriander and a squeeze of lime, and Robert might well be your mother’s brother. It’s very good for colds, which is perfect as my nose has been taken over by a hagfish of late.

The second (and last, each of these babies cost me nearly £12) beer of the night was the Hitachino Nest White Ale. This is a Belgian style wheat beer brewed with coriander, orange peel and nutmeg. Like the Nipponia it’s a gorgeous colour, a pale creamy gold this time, with very little head. On the nose it’s predominantly the orange peel that comes through. There’s a little nutmeg spice and a little candied sugar too, a lot like pear drops. Unfortunately this combines to make a nose that is disconcertingly like Fanta. This is one of the most comfortable tasting beers I’ve ever had, thanks to the nutmeg which always reminds me of rice pudding and white sauce. There’s a little orange pith in there too, but I’m not sure if I can taste the coriander. My palate is not at full capacity at the moment (did you see the hagfish yet?) so that might be my failing. It’s an incredibly soft beer, with almost no bitterness at all. It’s a lovely witbier, and a great match for my spicy soup, but I wouldn’t pay £12 for it again.

And in case you were wondering, the White Ale also went brilliantly with the Cadburys Mini Egg ‘dessert pot’ I had for pudding.

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