Tag 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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Things I have not written about.

I haven’t been around here much recently, have I? This post was first written in March, hence the out of date references. I keep sitting down to the computer, idea in head, ready to smash out a Pulitzer quality post. Two hours later I have half a paragraph and I’ve been watching Countryfile so late at night they have the lady signing at the bottom of the screen. I love Countryfile. The other night I learned about why red deer are being culled in Scotland, biodiversity in lowland bogs in the New Forest, and watched a lady get muddy on a bike. It’s hypnotic, and always makes me rethink my sedentary urban lifestyle. Then I remember that I hate being cold and wet, and creepy crawlies give me the wiggins. The countryside is pretty awesome, but probably not for me.

Anyway, here are a bunch of things I tried to write about and failed miserably.

Open It!

Open It! is a beer bloggers’ event that aims to stop people from hoarding ‘special’ bottles for years waiting for a special occasion, only to find they’ve gone off. Effectively it’s a big piss up. Although I didn’t join in with the bloggers’ dinner I did meet up with them later, and hoo boy did we have a good time. Most of the bottles were imperial stouts and barleywines, as they are the ones that age well. There were a few lambics and gueuzes in there too, and I took along a bought-specially bottle of saison. Not quite keeping with the theme of the event, but I find it impossible to keep beers in my flat longer than a month. Almost all these beers were very strong and worth at least £10, and some were worth several times that. Which means that swigging straight from the bottle and declaring “it tastes like beer!” were both inevitable and completely absurd. By the end of the night I had such palate fatigue all I wanted was a glass of diet coke to calm me down.

Food I ate that was good

There was the peach and redcurrant cobbler, the greengage and cumin frangipan tart, my sister-in-law’s amazing ratatouille, a meal I had at J Baker’s in York, bacon jam, an amazing chocolate mousse birthday cake, the entire Leeds Loves Food festival, and countless other great meals that I did not photograph because I was too busy eating them.

Louis CK

A few months ago there was a bit of a kerfuffle about Louis CK’s tweets about Sarah Palin and his subsequent suitability for a fancy-pants political dinner. I wanted to talk about how as bleeding heart liberals we have to hold our own to the same standards we hold the people we rail againt. If Rush Limbaugh isn’t allowed to make disgusting, sexist and homophobic comments in the name of ‘entertainment’, then beloved comedians like Louis can’t either. In his standup Louis talks about why he uses words like faggot and cunt, then proceeds to call his own infant daughter an asshole. Many times. I’m not going to get in to whether or not he’s funny as that’s personal taste (though, if you don’t think he’s funny you are obviously wrong), but I think it’s important that as part of his set he explains what he means by faggot and cunt, and why he uses them. If you have that context it’s difficult to be offended by what he says, but without it he just sounds like, well, a cunt. Twitter doesn’t provide context, and isn’t just visible to people who paid for a ticket. He was drunk and angry, but that’s not an excuse. He’s incredibly smart and funny and a big supporter of gay rights, but that doesn’t give him a free pass. We might forgive him more easily for a lapse in judgement, but why should anybody else? I hate it as much as anyone else when someone I admire does something dumb, but unless we all keep trying to be better how will we maintain our lovely higher moral ground? I like the higher moral ground thank you very much.

The most sexist alcohol adverts

I probably will do this at some point. Suffice to say most women are not so dumb we need characters on our booze bottles in order to identify them.

Low alcohol wine

I’ll probably rant about this in the future too. It’s not wine! It encourages teenagers to drink! It fosters unhealthy attitudes to alcohol! It’s just a marketing ploy! It tastes fucking hideous! And so on.

Todd Akin and related douchebaggery

What the ever loving fuck? Seriously. My body does not have a way to “shut that whole thing down” when raped any more than a mouse can “shut that whole thing down” when a cat is trying to eat it. American politics horrifies me, both as a woman and a person with a soul. I probably won’t write about this any time soon because it is too emotionally draining, and I am too busy being shocked that we still have to argue about this.

The Dark Knight Rises

Do you need another review of the last Nolan Batman film? Thought not. Other films I’ve seen recently that deserve but do not need a review: Rushmore (I know, I’m a bit late to that one), Amazing Spiderman, Moonrise Kingdom (are you sensing a theme?), the second Sherlock Holmes (so boring I can’t even remember the name of it), The Hunger Games and Showgirls. God, I love Showgirls.

The horror of house hunting

Mr Cute and I are trying to move out of the city centre into the area in which we would like to buy a house in a few years, and it sucks. This post was just going to be a massive whine about how it isn’t fair, and I deserve a nice place to live and why is the rent always so damn high? I will spare you this, though if you know me in ‘real life’ no doubt you’ve already heard it. The ‘why won’t my hair just behave like a normal person’s hair?!’ blog would have been quite similar.

The awesome beer I had this week

A few years ago Duvel Moortgat bought Liefmans and subsequently stopped making Liefmans Frambozen. Which was a shame, because it was a great beer. Guess what we found in the cellar of the shop a few weeks back? Yup, probably one of the last remaining bottles of Frambozen in the country. I know at least one person I could have sold it to and made a nice little profit, but instead I invited a friend over and shared it with him over a dessert of vanilla ice cream with warm blackberry sauce and crushed pistachios. It was brilliant. Dark, barely sweet and that couple of years of aging had given it a depth and complexity I don’t remember in the fresh beer. A great match for pudding but I think it would have gone well with some goats’ cheese too, or even a steak.

So, those are the blogs you could have won. Stay tuned for a tour of Parisian patisseries.

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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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