Fuller, Smith & Turner

Fullers logo

Fuller, Smith & Turner. Sounds like a rock band from the 80’s, doesn’t it? Except it’s much cooler than that. It’s the name of one of the foremost British brewers of traditional ‘real’ ale, and a benchmark for quality and innovation around the world.Fullers Brewery front door

I was lucky enough to pay them a visit recently at their Griffin Brewery site in Chiswick, London. From the moment you walk through their front door, you realise that even after nearly 200 years, they still feel like a family business.  Everyone inside and outside were all so cheerful, and friendly to one another, myself included, that for a second I almost felt I was on the set of The Truman Show!

The purpose of my visit was three-fold; take a tour of the brewery, visit their sampling bar, and then have lunch in their own pub, The Mawson Arms, round the corner. And I’m happy to report that I managed to achieve all three objectives!

The brewery tour was everything a beer geek could dream of, and more, because it was also happening in a place that has actually made, and continues to make, beer history.  From the milling rWP_20160209_007oom to the hop store, the brewers office to the mash tuns, and the fermenting vats to the kegging lines, this, no matter how often you see it, is as close as I come in adulthood to going to church. The delicious, rich smells; the steady, quiet calm of man and nature in perfect harmony; and the gentle hum of good things happening all around.  Because WP_20160209_005of its reputation as a giant of the ale brewing world, the one thing that keeps surprising me whenever I’ve visited is how small some of the spaces actually are! The milling room, where the wonderful ‘grain bill‘ for each ale is mixed and milled, is little more than a bedroom, and the hop store not much bigger than a restaurant walk-in chiller. Another lovely feature of the brewery is the way that they have expanded and built a thoroughly modern brewery, shining stainless steel everywhere, around so much of their old, historic equipment which is all mostly still in place.

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In this brewery, Fullers have produced winning ale after winning ale, year after year. Their first CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain winner, Extra Special Bitter (ESB), a 5.5% ‘winter beer’, has since won the prestigious award a further four times, along with two other Fuller’s ales, Chiswick Bitter and their flagship ale, London Pride. In fact, in the USA, ESB now denotes an entire class of beers, thanks to the distinct rich maltiness and high alcohol warmth of the original.

One particularly special ale that Fullers produce is an annual limited edition Vintage Ale. Since 1997, they have produced an individual, specially crafted ale with different malt and hops each year. They actually recommend that buyers lay them down for several years before drinking, as they continue to improve in the bottle over time. One very good reason to keep going back every year!

9 bottle triangle

 

Ester and The Enzymes

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Ester 1

If brewing awarded Grammys, this little group would be scooping them up year after year. Sure, they’ve had their hits, and their misses, and who hasn’t had at least one complete flop in their career? But, just about every single released by the group has had its fans, although there have been cases of extreme inter-fan rivalry, even downright violence, but there’s no doubt about their loyalty. Across a mind-boggling diversity of genres too, their unmistakable voices shine through, and even though they’ve been around for millennia, the future still looks bright for this extraordinary ensemble.

So, how did they meet?

Well, The Enzymes were there first. They were the ones who broke it down, you know, so others could follow. There were two of them, Alpha and Beta Amylase (sound kinda like stars, don’t they? Who knew?) Regular guys, hard workers, they mostly hung out in grains, like Barley, but also some others like Wheat, Rice, and Corn. Take Barley; the minute that grain started to germinate, or malt, those guys got to work, hydrolyzing those complex starches into sugars, which the grain was going to need as it grew. Of course, no one knew then what was headed their way – Ester; she blew into town one day with some guys called the Yeasts. At first no-one noticed. They kept to themselves, almost invisible. But it wasn’t long before the Yeasts met the grains; Greatest hitsI mean, they were everywhere!

What happened next?

It took everyone by surprise. One minute folks were making their usual daily bread, and the next thing, bang! Beer arrived! Crashed through the saloon doors like in a John Wayne movie. It was crazy! People started singing, laughing, sometimes even throwing the furniture around. What a laugh! And then Ester, this quiet little girl that no-one really noticed before, just appears from the back of the room; a stunning beauty! And what a fragrance! Conversations stopped, men with hands like shovels wrung their fingers nervously, waiting to see what she’d do. She just smiled at The Enzymes, and then gave this…this…smouldering Lauren Bacall look to The Yeasts, and then the music began. They’re still going strong. I’ve been buying their albums for years!

Deutschland, Deutschland

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German flag 2

Not many countries have managed to acquire their own month. But everyone in the beer drinking universe agrees that Germany owns October. Serendipity had a role to play in this, but the ever expanding juggernaut that is the global beer industry has had an influence on this too. Their world famous Oktoberfest has successfully managed to rivet itself onto the bucket list of beer enthusiasts everywhere, but it has also firmly anchored “brand Germany” in the minds of beer consumers globally.Oktoberfest2

This, like most things, has its advantages and its disadvantages. The Oktoberfest, for example, is really a show put on in Munich (in September) by the Big Six Munich or Bavarian-based brewers, all producing similar styles of beer (mostly lager and some wheat beer), and at least four of which are owned by either Anheuser-Busch InBev or Heineken; themselves owners and producers of an enormous share of the world’s mass-produced, pale lager beers (and even more so now, after the intended merger between AB InBev and SAB Miller). No wonder then that the original Oktoberfest found itself over the decades experiencing some quite impressive brand extension from Brazil to Beijing! Throw in some great atmospheric history like the 16th Century German Purity Law, the “Reinheitsgebot”, which all the brewers involved very prominently advertise, and the beer-appreciation prism has narrowed even further.

Despite their reputation for being one of the world’s largest quaffers of mass produced, identical looking and tasting beers, very few people other than a GermanAltbierglas could confidently tell you the difference between a Helles, a Lager, and a Pils. Probably because of the deeply embedded Germanic need to classify, qualify and catalogue! And yet, the differences are real, and to true beer-aficionados, they matter. Do a bit more digging, and you’ll actually uncover a wonderfully diverse range of beers, across the country, and even within smaller regions. There are the northern Bavarian beers of Franconia, in particular their Rauchbiers, or smoked beers, where the malt has been kilned over beechwood before mashing. Or the dark, earthy Altbiers, literally “old beers’ from around Dusseldorf, made with top-fermenting ale yeasts but cool-conditioned, like lagers. Head a bit further northwest to Cologne, and you’ll find the proudly local, pale, subtle Kolsh, served not in the huge 1L Bavarian ‘Mass’, but in tiny 20cl glasses. It’s strange, and rather refreshing that so many of these actually quite wonderful beers haven’t been packaged up and thrown at the world with some made-up marketing tagline. It leaves plenty of room for the enthusiastic beer nomad to wander and explore.

Outside of Germany, the best known traditional styles might be the Schwarzbiers – the dark, strong, but cool-fermented Bocks, and Dopplebocks, Paulaner’s Salvator probably being one of the best known.  Their wheat beers too have become note-worthy with their characteristic citrusy notes and banana-like estery character.

A German friend of mine, who also happens to own a local German ‘brauhaus’ selling brews from one particular Bavarian brewer, loved to tell a joke every time I ordered an alcohol-free beer at his bar. His joke was that buying an alcohol free beer was like going into a brothel, and asking for a hug. Imagine this being told, with extensive pauses for chortling, in a strong German accent. And he always finished with genuine, raucous laughter! The joke itself, especially after the umpteenth telling, wasn’t that amusing, but his enjoyment of the telling certainly was. In fact, I sometimes used to buy the beer just to watch him crumple up with laughter.  But then he’d sit down with me and talk like a scholar about the beers of his country, both of which he obviously loved.

Never underestimate the depths you can find in simplicity. The same can be said for German beer.

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The C-word

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Flight of Craft

So, what the heck is Craft Beer? If you asked a dozen people that question, you’re almost guaranteed a dozen different answers. The one thing that most beer drinkers can agree on is that it’s a positive and even necessary movement away from universally bland, flavourless, mass produced brews that have to be served so cold they may as well be beer popsicles. Now, there’s nothing wrong with loving beer popsicles, but where real beer is concerned, it’s the difference between beef-flavoured potato chips, and a Ribeye steak.

Several ingredients are stirred into the Craft Brewing story, the most significant being Size, Tradition, Flavour, Ownership and Innovation. Each one of these has at one time or another been cited as the main impetus behind the Craft Beer movement, but in fact they’ve all played, and continue to play, a major role in the evolution of both the craft, and the industry as a whole.

About 40 years ago, in a bearded and long-haired, George Harrison, John Lennon England, a protest group of sorts arose, CAMRA, or the Campaign for Real Ale. At that time, the beer market in Britain, and most of Europe, were under the heavy, post-war (that’s WW2 for all you millennials) commercial thumb of the predominantly lager producing multi-national brewers. Miraculously, they (CAMRA) struck a chord, as there were still sufficient pools of aggrieved lovers of traditional beer styles in the UK and Europe who needed a flag to rally around. Traditional British brewers found their legs again, while smaller, upstart black sheep brewers took matters, and their brews, into their own hands and a re-birth of ale began.Prohibition

In the USA, where the culture of beer had suffered an even worse fate than in Britain (e.g. their incomprehensible Prohibition era), they didn’t even know what they were missing, as ever since the 1850’s the production of beer on any significant scale was largely in the hands of German immigrants, who brewed what they knew. Lager. Business being business, the emphasis inevitably focused on the bottom line, and on making more of the same stuff, only more cheaply, and that’s how what we now recognize as the big ‘traditional’ American beer brands came to be infused with cheaper-than-barley grains like corn and rice, to the inevitable detriment of taste.

In the late 70’s, cheap, de-regulated trans-Atlantic air travel, and the legalization of home-brewing in the both the UK and the USA, slowly opened the door to what would eventually become a frenzy of cross-pollination of beer cultures. And just like wind-blown wild yeasts, ideas got everywhere. On stony ground in the USA at first, the concept that taste could actually be combined with beer started putting down firm roots in the 90’s.  Micro-breweries appeared, whose drivingphilosophy seemed to be “Small is Good, Big is Bad!”.  This of course became problematic when successful micro-breweries turned into Macro-breweries, or worse, were swallowed up by one of the industrial megaliths. Whither the Romance?

But by the early 2000’s in the USA, the demand for individuality and variety had become an unstoppable train. While overall beer sales had slowed, and even declined in some markets, the growth of what had now come to be known as “Craft Beers” continued to rise sharply, and, according to the US Brewers Association, so did the growth in number of small, independent, traditional brewers joining up to brew them. Food became an important part of this landscape, as did innovative (sometimes even bizarre) use of traditional ingredients!

Today, Craft Brewing is a constantly evolving landscape, with possibly as many individual types of beer as there are opinions. The one thing these craft brewers probably have in common is that they’re  usually bearded and broke, but worshipped, by customers who refuse to be sheep.

Belgium

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Belgian flag

 

Belgium”, General Charles de Gaulle once said, “is a country invented by the British to annoy the French”. Well, he had his issues. Luckily for the rest of the world, they’re not annoying us at all. In fact, many beer writers and experts have posited that Belgium is to beer what France is to wine, the Scottish Highlands to whisky, and even Cuba to cigars! Tim Webb, in his ‘World Atlas of Beer’, even deBrughes canalscribes it as “the Mother Ship of craft brewing”. So, if you’re interested in beer, you’d better get interested in Belgium.

This fairly small European country (approx. x6 times the size of T&T) of 11M people, is home to no less than 140 breweries! In comparison, if T&T grew to ten times our population, based on our current brewery to square mile ratio, we’d have, uhmm..yes, 9 breweries. Take some time to swallow that. And the next time you meet a Belgian, throw yourselves at their feet and beg them to take you home. For it is there that the widest variety of categories, sub-categories, styles and sub-styles of beer in the world have been brewed for centuries.

There are Trappist & Abbey ales such as Chimay and Orval, fabulous Oak-aged ales like the exquisite Duchess De Bourgogne, the ‘farmhouse’ or seasonal beers known as Saisons such as Saison Dupont. There are spiced Wheat beers, infused with coriander, cumin and orange peel, and then there are the idiosyncratic, uniquely Belgian Lambic sour, almost wineish beers. Add cherries and raspberries to give you Kriek and Framboise lambics respectively, and then pair them withMoules_Frites food, and you can start to believe that wormholes through time and space actually DO exist. Then, there’s the fact that practically every neighbourhood has its own ‘regional’ beer; Duvel Moorgat is a good example, and you can picture your fairly well informed beer enthusiast writhing around on his back in a cobble-stoned medieval square somewhere in Belgium babbling and frothing with information overload. It’s sort of like that Heineken TV ad, where all the men come to a house warming party and start screaming at their mate’s newly acquired Beer Cave, in tandem with his wife’s friends screaming at her Shoe Cave. Except that, the breadth and depth of Belgium’s brewing chutzpah can actually stun you into silence (almost; the author is hard to shut up).

The evolution of Belgian cuisine over the centuries, as a consequence of this happy cornucopia of styles, has meant that there is no better place in the world the true connoisseur of cuisine a la biere can go to open their palates, and minds.

Archaeology

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Ancient Egypt beer

What? You’re probably thinking “Wrong blog, Mate!”, but actually, nothing could be more right. Most anthropologists (and the archaeologists who do the actual hard work of digging and measuring) agree that the first major pivotal point in human civilization was the change about 5,000 years ago from nomadic, Neolithic hunter-gatherers to settled cultivators…..of grain. And why? The answer’s obvious, isn’t it? Beer!  But seriously, think about it. There’s a huge amount of ethanol going on around us, from simple natural fermentation of the sugars found in ripe fruit and malting grains by naturally occurring yeasts. Everything from insects to primates have been drawn to it in one form or fashion since time began, and not only for the nutritional value of the fruits and grains, but also for the unmistakable associated physiological effects of consuming alcohol. So it’s not that hard to imagine your average Neolithic bloke, weary from dragging his hunter-gather family around the plains, would find a bowl of some nice rough beer a happy distraction. He joins the dots, stays where the grains grow, tells his pals, et voila! Civilisation.

BrewingNInkasi is estimated to have emerged in southern Babylonia, or modern day Iraq around 5000 years ago. Rich soils and abundant water laid the foundation of the world’s first major civilisation, the Sumerians, of Lower Mespotamia. The made a type of bread from the grains, which they called bappir, and beer, which they called kas.  They worshipped a goddess by the name of Ninkasi, the “lady who fills the mouth”, and she was definitely quite a number. On Earth, she was in charge of stuff like harvesting, beer and brewing, drunken-ness, seduction, carnal love and almost inevitably, war. The Hymn to Ninkasi, essentially a couple of songs that record the recipes for brewing, and basically how to party with beer, is considered to be one of the world’s earliest pieces of literature! After that, there really was no looking back, because here was everything needed to make large numbers of people stay in one place and watch the show.220px-Standing_Osiris_edit1.svg

From Sumeria onward to Egypt, where in the early Dynastic period, 3100-2686 BCE, the brewing of beer became a lot more sophisticated, with use of several grains, including barley and wheat, and had become an important part of not only their culture but their economy. The Egyptians were in fact the world’s first major exporters of beer! Osiris, a pretty senior god in the Egyptian pantheon, in charge of the fertility, resurrection and the afterlife, was usually depicted holding his brewing staff. So they clearly weren’t messing around.

As Egypt came under the influence of first the Greeks, and then the Romans, both cultures more partial wine, the expansion and development of brewing hit something of a wall. But as the Roman Empire expanded northwards they bumped into a number of grain growing, beer-friendly tribes loosely known as Celts and Germans, and even further north the Britons, whose disinterest in organized warfare and general hairiness set the tone for craft brewers as we know them today!

The rest is history, which most archaeologists will tell you is the easy part.

Beer Belly (Part 3)

 

(Part 3 of 3)

Kitchen scene 2

 

In the kitchen, beer can be used as a tenderizer, in marinades, and a leavener. Beer has wonderful tenderizing properties, as the enzymes released in the brewing process make it an excellent choice for a marinade for tougher cuts of meat. Dark, maltier ales would be best for this job. Breads and pastries baked using beer have a more moist texture and a longer shelf life. Using beer to glaze ham or poultry imparts wonderful flavours, and any recipe calling for stock or water can also have beer in the mix, as can soups. In batter coatings for fried foods, or Yorkshire Pudding mix, the yeast in the beer acts as a mild leavening agent, causing the batter to puff up, as well as adding a distinctive enhancing flavour, and many folks like to steam hot dogs or shellfish in beer. Lagers and ‘mild’ ales (diluted with water) work better here.

A good recipe using beer will have a subtle, not dominating flavour in the finished dish. Note that when slow cooking, the bitterness of the hops will become more prevalent the longer the cooking time, as the bittering α-acids in hops don’t break down the way the other flavour elements do. Better to add the beer a bit later in the process. For those concerned about the alcohol in beer, it largely evaporates during the cooking process, depending on cooking time and temperature. Non-alcohol or ‘lite’ beers can be substituted, but the flavour and texture of the outcome may not be the same.

Bar scene

And now, from the kitchen to the dining room! Here are some classic beer and food matches that any serious beer enthusiast needs to try at least once:-

(N.B. These are just suggestions based on personal experience, and also on what’s available locally in T&T. Feel free to recommend others!)

 

Sushi
Beer and sushi1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tip:-  The fatty-textured raw fish is well balanced by lots of hops, some acidity and/or carbonation

Wheat beer- Paulaner Hefe-Weissbier, Blue Moon

German and European style lager  – Paulaner Hell, Stella Artois,

Classic pilsner – Pilsner Urquell, Budweiser Budvar,

Craft Lagers – Belhaven Craft Pilsner, Sam Adams Noble Pils

Japanese ‘dry’ lagers – Asahi, Sapporo

Sake – actually a ‘ rice beer”, and not ‘rice wine’

 

Oysters and shellfish

Oysters

Tip: A dash of dry stout or a very hoppy ale can add a very nice edge to soy sauce, or horseradish dips served with seafood and sushi.

Dry Irish Stout – Guinness with Oysters on the half-shell is an Irish Classic. Or, try a Black Velvet – a 50/50 mix of Guinness and Champagne! The tanginess of the dry stout (it must be a DRY stout) melds well with the saltiness of the oysters. A marriage made in heaven! Also works for other mollusks (clams, mussels), shrimp cocktail, deep-fried soft-shell crab, and lobster bisque. Another good match would be the strong and slightly acidic Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale.

Wheat and wheat/barley beers – Paulaner Hefe-Weissbier, Blue Moon, Hobgoblin Gold

 

Salads (e.g. green, chicken, salmon)

Tip:- try beer friendly ‘malt vinegar’ in your dressings!

Wheat beer- Paulaner Hefe-Weisse, Blue Moon

German style lager – Paulaner Hell

Flavoured pale ale – Badger Golden Champion (with Elderflower)

Classic pilsner – Pilsner Urquell, Budweiser Budvar, Heineken, Sam Adams Noble Pils

Brown ale – If it contains nuts, or nut oils in the dressing, try nice & nutty Newcastle Brown Ale, or Badger Fursty Ferret.

 

Curry

Curry

Tip: Highly spiced foods need muscular, flavourful beer, ideally ‘hop forward’, but ‘malt forward’ beers work well too, depending on the desired effect!

Pale ale (malt forward) – Abbot Ale, Old Speckled Hen, Fuller’s London Pride, Badger Fursty Ferret, Fullers Organic Honeydew

Classic IPA (hop forward) – Greene King IPA, Badger Hopping Hare, Fullers Bengal Lancer, American Style IPA– Anchor IPA, Harpoon IPA, Brooklyn IPA, Fullers Wild River, GK Double Hop Monster IPA, Thwaites 13 Guns IPA, Robinsons 9 Hop IPA

Belgian Ales – Duvel Moorgat,

Highly carbonated beers – Most local and regional lagers

 

BBQ, Burgers, Sausages

BBQ ribs

Tip: these frequently combine vinegar based acidity and sugar sweetness in the sauces (BBQ, Ketchup), lots of meat and a fair amount of fat, so decide what you want to emphasize, or balance.

Pale ale –  GK Abbot Ale, Old Speckled Hen, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Badger Golden Champion (with Elderflower), Fullers Organic Honeydew

Brown ale – Newcastle Brown Ale, Gales HSB, Thwaites Big Ben Brown Ale

Classic IPA  – Greene King IPA, Fuller’s Bengal Lancer India Pale Ale (IPA),

Porter & stout – Fuller’s London Porter, Guinness, 

Highly carbonated beers – Most local and regional lagers

Chinese

Chinese noodles

Flavoured ale –  Blandford Flyer ale (with ginger), Fullers Organic Honeydew ale (organic ale brewed with honey)

Sweet/ strong stout  – Mackeson milk stout, Belhaven Scottish Stout ( for rich, spicy Szechuan)

Highly carbonated beers – Most local and regional lagers

 

Salmon

Salmon steak

Grilled – Newcastle Brown Ale, Paulaner Dunkel Weiss (dark wheat beer)

Poached – Paulaner Hefe-Weissbier, Blue Moon

Smoked – Belhaven Wee Heavy Scotch Ale

 

Grilled meats

Apple ciderRoast pork

Pork chops – Fuller’s London Pride, Badger Golden Champion, Badger Applewood Pearwood cider, Cornish Orchard Apple or Pear cider (OK, the ciders are a bit of a cheat, but they’re GREAT with pork!)

Lamb chops – Belhaven Wee Heavy Scotch Ale, Fuller’s ESB, Newcastle Brown Ale, Paulaner Salvator

Steak – Fuller’s London Porter, Gales HSB, Hobgoblin, Thwaites Big Ben Brown Ale, Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale,

Steak

Brasserie scene

And finally (finally!) there’s no such thing as a Beer Belly; that’s just Pulp Fiction! Wine and Vodka have more calories per unit volume than beer, but have you ever heard of a Wine Gut or a Vodka Belly? It’s about lifestyle, not ingredients. Simple. And here’s a handy calorie checklist (below) to help any captive winos out there feel a bit better. So relax about the calorie thing, OK! The choices are out there, so be adventurous. You’re very unlikely to get stuck with a $500.00 bottle of beer!

Go on, I dare you….I DOUBLE dare you!!

 

Calorie chart for beer vs. wine

 

Beer  Pint/568ml Lager (163) Ale (182) Stout (170)
Wine

125ml

Red (85) Dry white

(85)

Rose

(90)

Champagne

(95)

Sweet white

(120)

Spirits

50ml

Whisky, gin vodka (120) Liquers, brandy (150)

N.B. Figures are averages across categories

Beer Belly (Part 2)

(Part 2 of 3)

Take Two!

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Confused?

O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu): You didn’t think it was gonna be that easy, did you?
The Bride (Uma Thurman): You know, for a second there, yeah, I kinda did.
O-Ren Ishii: Silly rabbit.

-Kill Bill 2

Actually Rabbits, it’s not that hard, for anyone willing to experiment. In his “The Pocket Guide to Beer“, beer guru and writer Michael Jackson (NOT the “Thriller”) described ales and lagers as the “red wines” and “white wines” of the beer world. He concluded: “The popularity of the original pilsner was well deserved, but its renown is ill served by the many brewers in different parts of the world who have used indifferent imitations to try to create a single international beer style at the expense of more characterful regional specialties. It is as though the whole world were to drink (white) Rhine wines and forget about the very existence of Burgundy or Bordeaux (red wines). The ‘whites’ of the beer world are more stable and consistent, but the top-fermenting yeasts endow the ‘reds’ with great personality.”

So, how can we match this rainbow of beery goodness with food? Imagine for a second that not everything we cook is either stewed, curried, or doused with pepper; great features of our local cuisine, but they often overwhelm the senses, and anything else they’re paired with. To properly embrace ‘cuisine à la bière, think foot-tapping jazz, or that R&B riff that always makes you smile, as opposed to Carnival music truck, and you’ll get the idea. It’s the subtle things that make a big difference, as Vince (John Travolta) explains to Jules:

Vincent: Yeah, baby, you’d dig it the most. But you know what the funniest thing about Europe is?

Jules: What?

Vincent: It’s the little differences. I mean, they got the same **** over there that we got here, but it’s just…it’s just, there it’s a little different.

Jules: Example?

Vincent: All right. Well, you can walk into a movie theater in Amsterdam and buy a beer. And I don’t mean just like in no paper cup; I’m talking about a glass of beer. And in Paris, you can buy a beer at McDonald’s. And you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?

Jules: They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?

Vincent: Nah, man, they got the metric system. They wouldn’t know what the **** a Quarter Pounder is.

Jules: What do they call it?

Vincent: They call it a ‘Royale with Cheese’

-Pulp Fiction

 

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Here are a few basic tips on making the beer & food marriage work:-

Harmony is your watchword here. The livelier or fattier the meal (BBQ’s, Burgers), the more hop bitterness and aroma the beer needs to hold its own. Hop bitterness cuts though fat in foods and lightens the heaviness in your mouth, allowing other flavors to come through. Highly carbonated beers like lagers also work well here, although they may lack the flavor and aroma of a well hopped ale. Spicy foods too, like curries, can benefit from a pairing with very hoppy beers, such as classic India Pale Ales (IPAs). The bittering α-acids in these IPAs may also intensify spiciness and heat (which shouldn’t be a problem here in pepper-happy T&T!), while the less bitter but ever more aromatic American style IPAs can also make a good pairing.  Hoppy beers can also be used in place of a pairing that calls for an acidic wine, such as salads with tangy dressings, or savory salamis. But don’t forget that the original purpose of hops in beer is to bring balance to the sweetness of the malted barley. Balance, not overwhelm. So in pairing you’d want to match the impact of the food with the impact of the beer. What this means, for example, is that you don’t want a big, robust, strong beer paired with a delicate fish dish (e.g. Sushi), or a light vegetable salad. And a pilsner, or a wheat beer, would not do the same justice to a beautiful roast, rich stew or grilled chops, than would a maltier, more muscular ale. If you want to get the best out of both the meal and the beer you’ve chosen to go with it, then you don’t want to overwhelm your palate or meal and ruin what the chef was trying to achieve.

There are fights that are beautiful to watch, and there are ugly, drunken brawls that end up outside in the street. The same applies to beer and food!  Who’d have thought that the classic Irish pairing of a dry stout like Guinness would work so perfectly with oysters? Or that strong, robust beers such as ‘barley wines’ would be a perfect match with sweet chocolates?  On the other hand, pairing an American light lager with, say, a beautiful slow cooked fore-shank of lamb would probably diminish the enjoyment of both beer and food.

A useful rule of thumb is ……there are no rules! If you like it, then that’s what’s right. However, to help you avoid wasting time and money on experiments gone wrong, it’s always helpful to get a few things sorted early on. First, decide if you’re open to new experiences, and then leave your pre-conceived notions at the door. Second, depending on the choices available, identify your ‘malt forward’ beers and your ‘hop forward’ beers, or your ‘red wine’ and your ‘white wine’. If anything from Belgium, or Wheat beers, are involved, then you’ve doubled the size of you beer universe. Third, consider the ideal serving temperatures for each particular beer – some beers are best served near frozen, while others blossom when served merely cool. The right beer, at the right temperature, is the difference between finding the right tool for the job, and using a can-opener to get into your car. It kinda matters.

Finally, decide what sort of beer-food experience you’d like to have.  In Part Three, we’ll take a look at some specific pairings, all tried by the author, none of which ended up in a scuffle on the sidewalk.

Tarrantino factoid:- in Django unchained, Dr. King Schulz goes behind the saloon bar and carefully pours two glasses of…beer! Ever seen beer in a Western?  

Say ‘Beer Belly’ again – I Double Dare you!

Norris Blanc channels Tarrantino in the search for Truth, Righteousness, and Beer in the Kitchen

(Part 1 of 3)Pulp 1

Just like Jules (Samuel L. Jackson), in Quentin Tarrantino’s “Pulp Fiction”, one sometimes becomes impatient with false assumptions and fuzzy details. Tragically, many of the misconceptions about that single most universally enjoyed beverage, beer, are in fact created by beer producers themselves. Their vast advertising budgets seem focused on convincing us that beer (i.e. Lager) drinking is best confined to white sandy beaches and crowded bars; a thirst quencher or a social glue, where scorching hot women arrive in droves with built-in beer-goggles. Beer is there to be enjoyed as background, scenery, but not by or for itself. As a Financial Times journalist once put it, “These people are drinking a marketing programme, they’re not drinking beer”. This article aims to correct that injustice. Illumination is the mission here, to guide our readers out of the darkness and into the light. Or, as a sorely homicidally inclined Jules might say, “I’m trying Ringo. I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd”.

If there’s one consistent feature of a Tarrantino movie, it’s that his characters never lack for clarity of motive. In the gastronomic world, that’s not always the case. We’ve all seen articles on the arcane art of matching food and wine. To most of us, the process is so often filled with mystique by the professionals that we just don’t bother, and simply end up placing our bets on “red with meat, white with fish” Or perhaps, needing to make a good impression, we just plump for the idea that the $500 bottle of wine MUST be better than the $150. In both scenarios the potential for disappointment is considerable.

Beer suffers from exactly the opposite problem! To most people, especially most beer drinkers, there’s no mystique about beer at all. Yet, while those same people would probably at least know that wine is made from grapes, it’s surprising how many don’t know what beer is made from. Or how that translates into the quality, variety, taste and price of the end result. You wouldn’t go into a restaurant and order “a plate of food”, would you? Or “a glass of wine”? You’d have at least some idea of how you wanted to maximize your enjoyment of what you ate or drank. So, before exploring the marriage of beer with food (the ultimate objective of this post), or just beer with thirst, we should maybe try to plug the giant Beer Information Gap (or just ‘B.I.G.’ to those in the know) that surrounds us.

Take One!

Both ale and lager are beers. Both are made from malted barley, hops, yeast, and of course, water. Wheat beers, obviously, use wheat instead of barley. Each of those ingredients, and how they are used in the brewing process, bring distinct features to the end product. Malted barley, for example. Just before grains or seeds sprout, they develop an outer layer of maltose sugars (yep, that’s where Malt comes from!), and it’s these sugars, along with the other starches in the barley grain that are then roasted by the brewer prior to commencing the brewing process. The degree of malt combined with the roasting time and temperature have a profound effect on the taste (think cereal, toast, caramel, chocolate, coffee) and colour (pale straw through rich ruby to deep brown) of the end result. Then there’s hops. Hops is actually a flower that’s grown on a vine, and it’s used to do two things; add bitterness to the sweet malt liquid, and also to bring aromas and flavours to the mix (so you just HAVE to wonder where Hops Bread comes from!!). Just like mangos, and apples, there are many different strains of hops, each with their own characteristics, which are then used in making different types of beers. Yeast (many brewers cultivate their own, and keep the details very secret) is then added to ferment all those complex sugars, and of course, we can’t forget water! And not just any old water either, as it’s hardness, softness, and mineral content are major elements of the particular style of beer being brewed, and it’s taste.

Beers fall into two broad categories: those produced by top-fermenting yeasts (ales, stouts and porters) and those made with bottom-fermenting yeasts (lagers). And just to confuse you, there are also hybrids!

Ales are the original beers. In the early days (Egyptian Pharaohs were often buried with supplies of beer) brewers weren’t aware that yeast even existed, but it was still an essential ingredient in the fermentation process, usually arriving in the form of wild, airborne yeast cells. In warm weather, the yeast in the ales continued to ferment the grain sugars at widely varied rates, depending on weather, location, and probably the random combination of different yeast strains. The end results were frequently a lottery. So brewers began to store their beer in as cool a place as possible. Those who stored their beer in very cold Alpine caves discovered their beer was more stable, lighter, and more consistent in taste. The reason was that during the cold storage process (lagerung in German – hence Lager), all the yeast cells sank to the bottom, and in the colder temperatures it was the bottom-fermenting yeasts that continued to function. At colder temperatures these yeasts worked slowly, producing beer more attenuated, rounder and less fruity than ales. Fermentation also took longer; up to three months, as opposed to three weeks for most ales.

Ales include everything with ale in the name (pale ale, amber ale, etc.), porters, stouts, Belgian specialty beers, wheat beers and many German specialty beers. They generally have a more robust taste, are more complex and are best consumed cool (50F or a bit warmer) rather than cold.

Lagers include pilseners, bocks, Hells, Oktoberfests, and a number of other mostly German styles. They are best consumed at a cooler temperature than ales, although anything served at less than 38F will lose most of its flavor. The pilsener style historically dominated the U.S. beer market, and later the Caribbean, but there now are plenty of other choices available. In T&T, the pilsner style predominates, with Carib and Stag the best known of the locally brewed beers. Popular lager imports include Heineken (the Netherlands), Corona (Mexico) and Coors (USA). Ales are a relatively recent addition to the local drinking landscape, but there is actually quite a wide range available from several British brewers, e.g. Badger, Belhaven, Fullers, Gales, Greene King, and Scottish & Newcastle. The key thing to note about these brewers is that they are all from very different parts of the U.K . In much the same way that wine enthusiasts compare regional notes between, say a Bordeaux, a Rioja and a Chianti, so too do the regional differences matter between ales – different water, different brewing traditions, different envelopes being pushed.

And a quick word on stout. It’s the roasted flavour that sets stout apart from other ale styles. This usually comes from roasted barley, which is barley grain that has not been malted, but highly kilned. This unique treatment for the grain creates flavours ranging from dry astringency to unsweetened chocolate to coffee.

AB InBev downs SAB Miller – are they just screwing with our heads?

Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev)

Only the world’s biggest brewer, and now set to become even bigger with the agreed acquisition of SAB Miller, the world’s second biggest brewer.  Together they’ll earn over half of the international beer industry profits and sell one of every three beers consumed worldwide. The US$106Bn. takeover is the equivalent of approximately twice the combined GDP of Caricom! Yes, twice the economic output of every nation between Jamaica and Guyana, including energy rich Trinidad & Tobago. In beer!

So, it’s a thirsty world. Just how thirsty, and for what, is the gamble on the future that AB InBev is taking in this gargantuan acquisition.*

Amongst the approx. 200 beer brands owned by AB InBev around the world are several well-known international brands, such as Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois, as well as Bass, Becks, Boddingtons, Hoegaarden, Labatts and Leffe. Get the picture? But the problem for them has been that while beer consumption in their major markets has been as flat as old beer, there’s been an 18% growth in craft beer sales in the same markets! Solution? A marriage proposal with the world’s No. 2 brewing group, SAB Miller, amongst whose 190 beer brands you’ll find the likes of Coors, Fosters, Grolsh, Miller and Peroni. They also own Bulmers, the U.K.’s biggest cider maker. But the really big attraction here for AB InBev is the SAB Miller business geography – they are the dominant brewery group in Africa, Asia and much of South America, where AB InBev has limited presence, and where the conglomerate’s strategy sages predict the biggest growth in beer consumption is most likely to happen in the decade ahead. Hence the (now agreed to) marriage.

While we may all know some, or even all of these brews, it wouldn’t be obtuse to ask what the heck it has to do with us in the Caribbean. After all, we have to import these beers anyway, so what does it matter? Well, there’s a Caribbean twist to this story as well. SAB Miller’s subsidiary, Brazil based AmBev, recently increased its stake in Banks Brewery of Barbados, triggering a takeover battle with T&T’s Ansa McAl Group, owners of Carib Brewery. Meanwhile, Heineken, world’s third largest brewer (pre-takeover), now a very distant second, is casting around for acquisitions, like other middleweights Carlsberg and Molson Coors, to help it bulk up in the face of the burgeoning behemoth. In fact, they have put in a bid to acquire all of Jamaica’s Desnoes & Geddes, brewers of Red Stripe lager and Dragon Stout, after buying the 58% stake previously owned by distillery group Diageo.  Watch this space!

Ale

Just a little three-letter word, but it’s what’s finally triggered the third biggest takeover bid in history, and the biggest ever in the brewing industry, and the consequent seismic shift of ownership and ultimately market control it will unleash in the global beer industry. How? For the last decade and more, beer drinkers in the developed markets have been voting with their bottle openers, and gradually moving away from the mass produced, flavourless beer-popsicles that have come to dominate the global markets, towards not only more traditional and historic styles of beer, but also new and innovative styles, which in turn has triggered an explosive growth in The Craft Beer industry. More on this in my next blogpost!

Hop by next week for another post from our A-to-Z of foamy facts, fiction, fables, fantasy and most important of all, fun!

*http://www.economist.com/news/business/21665074-ab-inbev-may-combine-sabmiller-flat-market-big-beer-brands-beer-monster

*http://www.economist.com/  news/business/21674381-sabmiller-ab-inbevs-toughest-takeover-yet-it-may-not-be-its-last-beerhemoth?zid=293&ah=e50f636873b42369614615ba3c16df4a).