Last year, soon after Kate and I got engaged, we were out on a pub crawl around Leeds with Dean from Mr Foley’s and Andy and James from Summer Wine Brewery. Andy said that as a wedding present, he and James would brew a beer for the wedding. We would decide what it would be and come to the brewery and help brew it.
It was one of those extremely generous offers that you think is a very nice thought, but don’t really think will be followed through in the cold light of day. To their credit, and our gratitude, James and Andy remained keen to do it and we arranged to brew it this weekend, for our wedding at the end of next month.
Kate and I had been batting around a few ideas about beer styles, with the special problem of trying to conceive one that would be of interest to James and Andy and ourselves, without being so bitter that it would be overly challenging to the palettes of our guests, who are not, in large part, seasoned hopheads.
We considered a few options, including a session pale and a stout, but ultimately, with James, decided on a red/amber ale made with New World hops, with the aim of producing a beer which was autumnal in appearance; had a decent malt body for a level of sweetness and balance; and hopped in a manner that created a lot of American hop aroma without being very bitter.
James took this quite sketchy brief and came up with a recipe which he had ready for us when we arrived early on Saturday morning. We spent the next eight hours helping James brew the beer. Well, “helping” in the way a toddler “helps” their mum cook. Digging the mash tun was hopefully useful. The beer already has a wonderful colour and, we think, shows a lot of promise. Although I’d been to breweries before and brewed from a kit, this was the first time I’d actually seen a whole brewday on a commercial level. It was fascinating how much I didn’t already know.
It was also great to spend the day with James and Andy talking about beer, their plans for the future and what they’d achieved over the last three years. Summer Wine is a business built entirely from ambition, knowledge and very hard work. It would be a cliche to say that they produce “uncompromising beers”, but their whole way of working reflects an ethos of producing the best beers they can and continually improving them.
Their new bottles reflect this. Having had, and observed, unhappy experiences with bottle-conditioning in the past, and being unable to find a contractor to bottle in the way that they wanted, they have installed a new and unique bottling system for unfiltered and unpasteurised, precisely carbonated, non-bottle conditioned beer.
Towards the end of the day we got to try some of the new bottles, which are currently available only from their online shop, which launched on Friday. All four of the initial line (Barista, Diablo, Kahuna, Rouge Hop) are great and in particular I think that their flagship IPA, Diablo, and their espresso stout, Barista, transferred very well indeed. The Barista benefits from a restrained carbonation whilst Diablo has retained its superb aroma.
Our beer, which we’ve named Covenant, is now fermenting away on an industrial estate in Holmfirth, awaiting dry hopping. As well as being on cask at our wedding reception, it will also be sold into pubs. It will hopefully be available in Mr Foleys and, very excitingly, may also be in Newcastle for Twissup in November. Let me know if you get to try it.
It’s been a month and a half since #IPA Day at Mr Foleys and the leaves have started to turn. I don’t have a lot more to say other than that it was a great success, I had a fantastic day, enjoyed the esteemed company and tried some superb, occasionally very strong beers.
So this is mainly an excuse to post some photos of the day, which in itself is only really worth it for that one shot of Hardknott Dave in full, thunderous flow, doing his utmost to be heard above the crowd, whether they liked it or not. He could easily be a Free Presbyterian minister if only he wasn’t so keen on the Devil’s buttermilk.
For Leigh’s contemporaneous comments on the remarkable selection of beers Dean had brought together for #IPAday, see this post.
I took (dragged, really) my brother and my father up the rather unpicturesque Rochdale Road in Manchester recently to get to the wonderful Marble Arch pub. Whilst we were there, I couldn’t resist buying Marble’s two new special large bottles, although they set me back about £23 in all. I’ve been impressed by Marble’s previous big bottles, including Utility IPA, Stout Port Stouter Porter Stoutest (or similar), and their version of De Molen’s Vuur & Vlam.
These two new bottles were especially appealing, as their take on a Belgian dubbel and tripel coincided with my increased interest in Belgian beers following my trip to Bruges. Although they were both probably suited to cellaring (shoving in a cardboard box in the spare room), I decided to open them both over the last weekend.
I popped open the Manchester Dubbel (8.5% ABV) in front of In Bruges on DVD, with Colin Farrell mocking “gay beers”, swigging Leffe from the bottle and being fascinated by dwarves. This turned out to be a good version of what I consider a dubbel to be. It had a huge, persistent head, and a really sweet and bitter dark chocolate smell. In the taste, the dark chocolate snuggled down with some licquorice and an obvious booziness to make a warming, comforting beer, especially after the fizziness had subsided. Unsurprisingly this paired well with some dark Belgian chocolate.
The Manchester Tripel (9%) is an interesting one: Pouring again with a large head, this dispersed much quicker than the Dubbel’s. It smells and tastes richly of citrussy American hops with a nice medium maltiness to match the cloudy gold-to-amber colour. The hop bitterness builds up over the course of the drink to a quite acidic taste, and the malty sweetness eventually accumulates as well, suggesting the beer is best drunk with food (cheese) or shared (Kate didn’t like it). Having said that, it hides its 9% well (although I say that so often I may be suffering ABV Shift) and I really enjoyed the beer.
However I really enjoyed it as a US-style double IPA, rather than a “tripel”. As a term, “tripel” does seem to be a bit contentious; style icon Michael Jackson said differing things about the word in different publications, but this is the definition on the Beer Hunter website:
Dutch-language term usually applied to the strongest beer of the house, customarily top-fermenting often pale in colour, occasionally spiced with coriander. The most famous is made in Westmalle, Belgium.
Regardless of this (probably necessarily) rather wide definition, I have a view of what a Tripel is from those I’ve tried, including Westmalle, Karmeliet, Straffe Hendrik, Corsendonk and De Garre. They’re all strong blonde beers with varying degrees of hop flavour.
The Manchester Tripel may or may not be “on-style”: I’ll leave that question for more knowledgeable writers. It isn’t the beer I expected it to be, however, with the powerful New World hop flavour overpowering any noticeable “Belgian” qualities. I wouldn’t have had that reaction to a very enjoyable beer had it been described in a different way, perhaps as a “Belgian-style IPA”. But that’s my problem and many people will enjoy having their expectations defied, or simply appreciating the beer for what it is, rather than what it isn’t.
I don’t want to turn this into a food and beer blog, but I thought this was worth mentioning. The very special Sunshine Bakery in Chapel Allerton have “Supper Club” evenings on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. It’s kind of like a tiny pop-up restaurant in the bakery (just four tables with ten or so covers when I was in), with a small choice of courses for very reasonable prices.
What they don’t have is a licence, so you can take your own alcohol. Instead of taking wine, we decided to take a couple of large bottles of beer. This was a great opportunity to have some food in a restaurant with a couple of beers that either (a) you would be very lucky indeed to find in an English restaurant; or (b) you would normally have to pay corkage for if you brought them in yourself.
We didn’t know what the menu would be, but after a chat with Ghostie in Beer Ritz the day before we decided to go for a Saison Dupont (great value for around a fiver) and an impressive looking paper-wrapped Corsendonk Agnus.
Ghostie, as always, was right. The corks popped in a satisfying manner and they were more than suited for the wine glasses on the table. Both beers went very well with the great French-style bistro food at the Supper Club. The light and hoppy Saison was a perfect match in very many ways for my farmhouse pate starter, which came with a fresh tasting piccalilli. The Agnus, a slightly heavier tripel, held up quite well against a rich boeuf bourguignon.
The pale, bitter beers were probably an even better match with Kate’s choices: a mackerel nicoise salad followed by a smoked haddock chowder with saute potatoes. We then finished off with a pot of tea and some very special cakes: an Eton Mess cupcake for Kate and a Turkish Delight brownie for me.
Normally there’s quite a mark-up in restaurants on alcohol and wine in particular. I often find that a good beer, where available, can knock about £20 off the bill, although this tends not to thrill the waiter. But here, because we got to pay off-licence prices for the beer and very reasonable prices for the food, it cost us only around £45 all-in for the beer and three great courses each.
Basically I don’t think I should be telling you about this at all, because it’s hard enough to get a booking as it is. In fact, forget I said anything.
It’s fair to say that Bruges is an expensive city. You’d be lucky to pay less than €20 for a bowl of mussels. However the most extravagant thing we did whilst we were there was to have dinner on our last evening at Den Dyver, a fine dining restaurant with a focus on matching beer and food, which has previously been featured on The Hairy Bikers.
The restaurant looks minimalist from the outside but inside has something of a mediaeval tavern feel, with hanging lamps and some gothic/churchy fittings, although this isn’t overdone and is offset with some pieces of modern art on the walls. Despite this, it definitely had the quiet and refined tone of a fine dining restaurant, but with a certain warmth.
Rather than having a beer list for you to choose from, each dish is matched with a particular beer in what Around Bruges In 80 Beers describes as a “dictatorial” approach, but is perhaps more accurately described as “prescriptive”. There is a similar approach to wine, should you opt for that instead. There is a short a la carte menu but Kate and I both opted for the three course set menu. She chose a fish starter and main whilst I went for the least ethical options: a foie gras starter and a veal main.
The night started with a champagne flute of the house beer, which is from Brouwerij Van Steenberge, who also brew the house beer for De Garre, which I think the founders of Den Dyver previously owned. It’s a similar and similarly excellent beer, although I don’t think it’s the same one, as I’ve read in some places online.
With the bread came some crispy sea bass goujons and a dipping sauce, which went well with the blonde hoppy beer. We also received an amuse bouche: mussels on a herby mash, a shot glass of gazpacho and a piece of (raw? cured?) herring. Everything was a little treat in itself and a great start to a very special meal.
Kate’s starter read as follows:”Redfish filet. Spider crab. Broad beans. Leek. Oca leaf. White radish. Parsley flower.” This came with a bottle of Petrus Blond from Brouwerij Bavik.
Mine was: “Baked goose liver. Pata Negra. Grilled green asparagus. Pearl onions. Avocado pear. Westphalia rye bread.” This came with a bottle of Kapittel Pater from Van Eecke, a soft dark beer to match the rich dark flavours of the foie gras and the crisp asparagus.
I thought it worked well, although the starter was so delicious I had to remind myself to drink. The only criticism I would have is that there seemed to be two starters, really: the asparagus and ham wasn’t really needed alongside the foie gras, although all were very lovely. You could extend this criticism to the main courses but they probably sat together more convincingly.
Kate’s main course was: “Grilled monkfish. Rosemary potatoes. Palissons and lemon lentils. Broccoli and lettuce. Ratatouille.” The fish main course similarly came with a blonde beer, but this time the hoppier Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor from Brouwerij Het Anker. It was an excellent beer and she was very impressed with the fish.
My main course was “Baked veal. Ravioli of calf’s head and chanterelle mushrooms. Swiss chard. Sour-salt red cabbage. Celery and lavas.” This absolutely delicious plate of rich, slightly autumnal food was well-matched with another dark beer, a Gusto Ruby Red from Brouwerij De Koninck.
This beer was more interesting than the first and really very well suited. The veal, which I choose to believe was ethically sourced, was really very delicious. Kate didn’t like the ravioli when she tasted it and although I did, I can see why: it was slightly offally, but again this was a good match with the beer.
Kate opted for the dessert whilst I decided to go straight for the cheese. She had: “Fresh red fruit salad. Yogurt mousse. Basil biscuit. Lime-honey popcorn. Ugandan dark chocolate sorbet.” This looked absolutely superb and came with a glass (not a full bottle) of Goudenband from Brouwerij Liefmans.
This was Kate’s favourite course. The fruity, sour and sophisticated beer (an Oud Bruin) was a good match for the bitter chocolate and light tart berries. I’m not a massive fan of desserts but this one looked and tasted great.
I can’t remember the name of the cheeses on the cheese course but I do remember that they were wonderful, and were matched with some chutney, nuts and a St Bernardus Pater 6. This was a great beer, although I had actually tried a few other St Bernardus beers earlier in the day and thought the rich cheeses could have coped with their Abt, but there’s probably something to be said for a level of sweetness so that you can fully appreciate the flavours of each cheese.
After our final course we had a final little amuse bouche of pannacotta. It was one of the more expensive meals that we’ve had recently, although certainly less than the Devonshire Arms. I really felt that it was worth it though, with some very special food and wonderful beers. If you’re looking to really treat yourself on a holiday to Bruges, I would recommend a visit, although be sure to make a reservation as it was full even on a Monday night.