What an evening. A feast to celebrate all that is good about the resurgent beer style Indian Pale Ale. At Thursday night’s celebrations I helped devise a 7 course and 7 styles of IPA feast at The Dean Swift.
It all started rather innocently. I responded to a tweet from Max Chater, General Manager of The Dean Swift, asking who’d be interested in getting together to organise an event for international IPA day. So, armed with my copy of Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus, we met up, decided on the format and started to plan the shindig. Max, Momo Medi (Head Chef) and I tried a whole host of IPAs and drew up a barn-storming menu for the event.
Max was keen to bring together the great and the good from the British beer scene, conscious of the fact that most if not all of the specialist beer bars in the UK were organising their own events, calls were made, diaries checked and the attendance list started to take shape. Unfortunately, on the day, we went a man down. Pete Brown was incapacitated by some dodgy chicken wings scoffed at The GBBF. But sitting round the table Max had gathered brewery owners, brewers, beer importers and pub owners to enjoy the festivities. And me. Quality.
Andy Baker – Summer Wine Brewery
James Farran – Summer Wine Brewery (see Raising the Bar for their blog on the event)
James Bendall – Sandstone Brewery
James Watt – BrewDog
Patrik Strandberg – Cask Sweden
Peter Millar – journalist, author, bon vivant (Beer Among Friends)
Phil Strongman – Pubs of Distinction Ltd.
Nate (tempted to make up a surname)- The Kernel Brewery
Toby Munn – The Kernel Brewery
Type: Black IPA
Food: Toulouse sausage scotch egg
Beer: The Kernel India Pale Ale Black (keg), BrewDog Abstrakt AB:06
Logic: I knew AB:06 was amazing with Toulouse sausage meat. Discovered it by accident but there’s a reason why the pairing works so well. Dark roasted malts with a strong pine profile from the hops lend themselves towards this meaty sausage with garlic herbs and wine. You need a big beer to overpower the wine and lots of alcohol to tame the garlic. As a Scotch egg is a mainstay on The Dean Swift’s menu, Max suggested and Momo perfected the dish.
After an initial tasting of the two beers, people got stuck into matching with the scotch egg. But this was no ordinary egg. Crisp on the outside, fantastically moist, garlic heavy, porcine goodness within and a perfect semi-set boiled egg at the centre. The Kernel Black IPA is a magnificent beer but a very different animal to the AB:06. In our preparation, Max, Momo and I had already identified the AB:06 as the winning combination. We knew the chocolate notes from The Kernel meant that it wasn’t the ideal pairing for this course. Also the garlic rides roughshod across the beer, kind of thinning it out. But with the AB:06 ….. “cracking”, “wonderful”, were the first discernible words from amongst the Om Nom Noms. Our plan was working. There was even a general consensus of an almost symbiotic relationship. The food was improved by the beer and vice versa. Apart they were both good but together they were great.
Type: Canned IPA
Food: Calamari with sweet chilli sauce, timbale of avocado and crayfish
Beer: BrewDog Punk IPA, Maui Big Swell
Logic: Canned IPA should be super fresh and be full of citrus, pine or exotic fruit goodness. Also seafood and avocado have a natural affinity with tropical fruit. We selected two light dishes as we wanted people to compare and contrast and to get the discussion flowing. By the way, they are not nano kegs, they are cans.
Both cans had been in the same fridge for the same length of time but the Punk was noticeably colder than the Big Swell. Tin-plated steel vs. aluminium or different thickness? There were some off cans of Punk several months ago but the Punk we drank yesterday obliterated that memory. Less bitter with fresher mango and papaya than I recall from previous ‘cannings’. The Big Swell has a massive malt backbone and the Northwestern hops offer a more vegetal, acerbic quality. Very different IPAs. We agreed that the two dishes went very well with the two beers, just couldn’t agree which match was better. Some preferred Big Swell with the calamari, the malt and sharp bitterness initially fighting against the sweet chilli and seafood then working together. Others found the astringency of the Maui cut through the creamyness of the avocado and the herbaceousness of both food and drink complemented each other. For me, Punk’s tropical fruit just worked better with the sticky chilli and light golden battered squid.
Type: Centennial IIPA resurrection
Food: Grilled goats cheese and roasted peppers
Beer: Kernel Centennial #100, Centennial 2010
Logic: US style IPAs are considered best young. As they get older the aromas from the hops start to fade and the cereal and caramel flavours from the grain become more prominent. Can a food pairing resuscitate an old IPA and tease out some of the lost character, and how would it compare with the fresh version? We thought this beer would end up being the cheese course as an old IIPA starts to head into barley wine territory (food and barley wine – a winter event in the making?) but when we worked through soft, blue, goats and hard cheeses it was pretty obvious to us that Centennial had a natural rapport with goats cheese. But is wasn’t quite right. In a moment (momont?) of pure genius, Momo darted back into the kitchen, added some dried herbs and grilled the cheese. Inspired.
The carbonation in the Centennial 2010 was a problem though … until Max decided to decant them. Good work fella.
The herb seasoned grilled goats cheese (chèvre blanc?) with it’s musky flavour came alive with the year old Centennial, and any sharpness from the hops was countered by the beautiful roasted peppers. Some people find young goats cheese to be quite citrussy which could also be why the pairing works. The #100 was a very good match too but the yearling edged it through greater depth and sweetness. A few people sited this as there favourite pairing of the night.
Type: IPA and Spice?
Food: Tandoori chicken with cauliflower velouté
Beer: Stone Brewing Co. Ruination
Logic: I think IPAs work well with spicy food. Cuisines that have a predisposition for using chillies and a whole range of different spices (Indian, Thai, Chinese, Burmese, etc.) have a special kinship with the heady fruity, floral and citrus aromas found in US style IPAs. I make a lot of Tandoori chicken (I’ll post the recipe soon) and grabbed a thigh to chew on after ordering in some Ruination from My Brewery Tap. and instantly fell in love with the pairing. Max, Momo and I initially tried the Ruination with the chicken tikka and cauliflower velouté that’s on the Swift’s menu and, though the tikka didn’t have enough bark to deal with the IPA’s bite, the velouté was perfect. Luscious and comforting with a summery hit from the coriander. I brought in some marinated tandoori thighs which Momo duly roasted for us all to try the pairing. You know a match works when people start giggling because it’s so good. The dish was born.
The table first went silent. Then murmurs of approval, and a few sound-bites to warm your heart. “Probably the best tandoori I’ve ever had“, “wow, that is so moist”. There was high praise for the unusual but cunning pairing with the velouté. Highly spiced dishes can steam-roll less aggressive IPAs. Just to see what would happened we lined up some BrewDog Hardcore alongside the Ruination. Now I’m a big fan of Hardcore but none of us felt it clicked with the tandoori, maybe too much pine. I get hints of orange blossom in the Ruination and I suspect it’s this floral citrus note that lift the spices and disperses them to the four corners of your mouth.
Type: Draught IPA: UK vs. US
Food: Lamb Mechoui
Beer: Summer Wine Brewery Kahuna, Stone Brewing Co. IPA, Sierra Nevada Torpedo, Great Divide Titan
Logic: No dark meats had been part of the feast so far and we felt lamb, with it’s natural compatibility with fruit and herbs, should be at the centre of this course. And with the vast array of cask and keg IPAs Max had sourced for the evening, we were excited to see what worked best. Initially we discussed a lamb tajine with apricots but settled on the Mechoui, a speciality of Momo’s.
The quality of my photography is pretty ropey at the best of times but it now starts to head downhill. I’m sorry to say I have no clear photo of the Lamb or the trays and trays of beer that arrived for this course.
The Lamb Mechoui was herby (mint/thyme?), insanely tender and the best dish of the night for some. With the fat rendered down, the sinew of the meat fell apart if you so much looked at it funny. Served with green beans its sauce had a sharp astringency (vinegar or lemon? – need to check with Momo) that gave the dish an extra dimension. But it didn’t work with any of the IPAs on tap. The cask Summer Wine Kahuna is a beautiful beer, full of orange, lemon and pineapple, and reminded me of Magic Rock Cannonball. The Stone IPA hadn’t travelled well and had lost it’s exotic fruit and was just bitter and malty. The Torpedo lulls you in and then, boom, a hop bomb of bitterness (beer Talisker?). The Titan has a decent balance of pine and caramel but with the food match failing to deliver it was a battle of the IPAs, and the Kahuna edged it for me. We tried some Hardcore to see whether the big bruiser of UK IPAs would work any better with the lamb, but still to no avail. A suggestion of trying it with the AB:06 may have been the match we were looking for, but we’d drank all of that by then.
Type: Dessert IPA
Food: Raspberry and limoncello jelly tartlet
Beer: Mikkeller Sorachi Ace
Logic: At a recent 19 Mikkeller single hop IPA tasting at The Kernel organised by Andrew from The Bottle Shop, the Sorachi Ace had been the stand-out beer of the evening. This was always going to be the beer paired with the pud. Everyone gets different flavours from Sorachi Ace and for me lemon and cheese dominate. A quick check of the existing menu and the tartlet jumped out. A couple of tweaks and another bout of giggling from the three of us.
Pudding. After the previous course I was really looking forward to people’s views on this pairing. “It’s a bit like Marmite, you either love Sorachi Ace or hate it”. “I just get celery”, “I get mushrooms”. Things were getting interesting. There were several brewers around the table who had yet to be seduced by Sorachi’s insane flavour profile, its lemon cheese funkiness. The Mikkeller Sorachi has a fair malt profile which worked superbly with the pastry base of the tart. But it’s in the bitter sweet symphony of the raspberries and limoncello where the beer starts to amplify everything and turn it up to 11. A few more Sorachi Ace converts and a table of happy beer geeks.
7th Course: cheese
Type: Quadruple IPA, frozen four times
Food: Aged goats cheese, Vintage Gouda, Monastery Cheddar
Beer: Sink The Bismarck!
Logic: What’s a feast without a cheese course. At one of our ‘all in the name of research’ preparatory meetings I introduced cheese paired with whisky to Max and Momo, demonstrating how well Highland Park goes with a decent vintage cheddar (a future blog). James Watt very kindly brought down some Sink The Bismarck! for the evening so I bought three interesting hard cheeses and we were good to go.
Sink The Bismarck! is, quite simply, a stunning drink. I don’t care whether it is beer or not. What I do care about is the intensity and concentrated IPA-ness of it. It’s as if someone has been attempting to make an IPA pill for astronauts and it’s just a question of a bit more dehydration and some crystallisation to go (dodgy science but you know what I mean). Mental.
The Gouda was almost crystalline and very toffeed, like a Mimolette. A lovely cheese but struggled to find balance with the Bismarck. The goats cheese had the texture and depth of a cave-aged Gruyère but still with that musky, caprylic acid thing – which was deepened by the beer. A good match but not great. Now Monastery is the strongest Cheddar I have ever eaten and takes no prisoners. A quote from the evening, “that’s the best cheese I’ve ever had”. High praise. How did it fair with the IPA? It was better than Max, Momo and I could’ve hoped for. Monastery is one of those cheeses that makes your mouth itch, like the cheese is clawing away at your cheeks, trying to get out. The Bismarck has an almost saline like quality that makes your mouth water. This allowed the cheese to take over your entire palate and run riot.
James also brought some Black Tokyo* Horizon for us all to try. A dark, umami and chalky Imperial Russian Stout (aged in Glen Moray casks) that, for me, is greater than the sum of it’s parts. I have drunk it’s three progenitors and sure it’s big, brazen and in your face but, it’s a bit like Cantona in his pomp, you instantly know there’s a bit more going on beneath the surface.
It was great to sit round the table with so many talented and passionate individuals. Devising a menu to feed beery people on IPA Day was incredibly rewarding and something that I hope to do again and again. It also re-enforces the suitability of beer with food and the need to break the perception that wine is the only option with a meal.
Max and Momo did a magnificent job. It was a monumentally epic celebration of food and beer and the bar has now been truly raised.