…my true love gave to me a delicious homemade lasagne. It really was absolutely scrumptious, but not particularly in-keeping with the season.
So to accompany this feast and herald a climax to the Yuletide festivities, I brought a centuries old recipe back to life in the form of wassail.
This winter warmer is a heady concoction of dark ale and spices fortified with a splash of something a little stronger. It’s a bit like mulled wine for real men.
Various versions of this traditional English beverage are described, many based on cider, some on wine, others on ale. Many recipes involve mixing raw eggs with hot beer rendering a rather bizarre form of eggnog, but I fancied something a little more palatable.
Thankfully – and somewhat miraculously – I still had a third of a barrel of home-brewed stout left over from Christmas. The perfect base for my wassail was at hand!Tags: home brewing, homemade, Wassail
Just as the fire starts to reach what might be a peak – and that’s without one of my best friends throwing one of our six garden chairs on it – there’s a cold snap in the air and a damp feeling on our collars.
“There’s rain in the air” someone shrills in typical British fashion, and the next hunk of wood gets chucked into the wood burner in typical British defiance.
It’s a week after the clocks changed, and standing in the garden it’s the first night of the year that stirs thoughts of winter beer.
Nights like this conjure all sorts of comforts, marshmallows and mittens, fireworks and fairgrounds, bonfires and Bovril. We’re on the cusp of the year, a blend of autumn and winter, darkness and bright lights, cold bodies and hot remedies.
So what is the quintessential winter comfort beer?
Creamy milk stouts or deep smoky porters? A beery cup of tea in the form of dark mild?
Autumn ambers, chestnut bitters? Spicy Christmas beers stronger than Nana’s Snowball Surprise, or decadent, thick chocolate stouts sweeter than a year’s worth of Quality Street.
Or for sustenance there’s dark ?erný pilsners, roasted best bitters, coffee bean ales, strong Baltic porters, extra nutty specials or filling oat stouts.
Or perhaps the perfect winter beer is simply the beer that gives the most joy, that warms you without you ever noticing, and the one that you can afford to keep well stocked in case of unexpected snow days.
As the winds pick up in the garden, and the flames turn to embers, we swig back our mulled wine, our Corona’s and limes, our celebratory sparkling fizz, and let our booze jackets wrap a soothing arm around us.
Here’s to winter, and the home comforts of whatever our favourite winter warmers may be.Tags: christmas beers, corona, mulled wine, spark, winter
As I had to visit the beer writer’s wife’s ancestral seat in Scotland last week I decided upon a “when in Rome” attitude whilst picking up a couple of beers – nothing too trendy mind you, but certainly well worth noting here.
Fraoch Heather Ale
In the past beer has been brewed with a varied array of botanical ingredients – for example the monastic brewers of the Middle Ages used all kinds of additives in order to give their beers a characteristic taste. The additives varied widely with local preferences and these mixtures of herbs and other plants were known as grut or gruit. Fraoch Heather Ale is a Scottish example of this style dating back to 2000bc.
Brewed to an ancient Gaelic recipe for “leann fraoich” (heather ale) Fraoch has been skillfully revived and reintroduced by Scottish microbrewer Williams Brothers of Alloa and involves adding sweet gale and flowering heather to the malted barley before pouring the cooling liquor into a vat of fresh heather flowers where it infuses for about an hour before fermenting.
The outcome is a beer that is very floral on the nose with hints of honey and ginger. What’s surprising though is that the initial floral taste isn’t overwhelming and is balanced with light earthy notes (and may be a hint of mint) ensuring the overall feel isn’t too sweet. Its dry finish just adds to the intriguing qualities of a beer the Pict’s certainly got right and it just shows that reinvention (and not invention!?) can be the mother of good brews. Read the rest of this entry »
Think of Kentish brewing and you might think typical English countryside: dappled light and ruddy-faced urchins diving around the hop poles as Ma and Pa Larkin bumble about with a haycart. It’s a comforting pastoral image a thousand miles away from the bleak, flat landscape of Thanet or the cut-to-the-bone North Sea wind that rips across Whitstable Bay in November. But some of the best brewing Kent has to offer goes on right in the heart of this unforgiving and extreme region of the country. Three breweries – Shepherd Neame, Gadds and Whitstable Brewery – all produce workmanlike ales that should be tried, even if you can’t get hold of their most interesting brews north of the Watford Gap.Read the rest of this entry » Tags: autumn, gadds, kent, shepherd neame, whistable
November 5th, 2010Seasonal beers
As far as seasonal beers go, I’m not sure many beers can beat Morrison’s Hot Cross Ale for capitalising on a specific annual event. At Christmas we pull out dark stouts scented with cigars and pudding fruits; during the summer we thrown oranges and lemons at everything; but what could sum up spring and Easter better than a hot cross bun. Excluding Cadbury’s Creme Eggs that is.
And if you think this is a gimmick or a joke, I urge you to try it (fingers crossed they do it next year) if only for the experience.
It smells like no beer ever! It’s lemon, currants and cinnamon through and through; it tastes like hot cross buns! There’s a touch of marmalade and spiced orange peel, even that currant character that defines Eccles Cakes, minced pies…and even Banbury Cakes if you’ve ever had the pleasure.
So is the perfect the perfect Spring time beer? Not really, asthis beer would actually better suited to Autumn or Winter,: open fires, conker fights, Christmas markets and roasted chestnuts.
And even if it is a gimmick, it’s one I’ll happily sup again.
Read the rest of this entry » Tags: autumn, currants, hot cross bun, marmalade, morrisons, spice
I feel harsh saying this looks like a pale piss yellow coloured beer, but hey, I’m saying what I’m seeing. M&S Essex Ale looks watery when poured into a glass and not quite the post-work refreshment I had in mind.
So raising the not-so-enticing liquid to my face I’m caught off guard by a gust of floral loveliness and the punchy tropical fruit aroma. Perhaps there’s grapefruit, perhaps just a hint of grass. Soft fleshy fruits dominate the first sip before a gust of bitterness overwhelms – it’s sweet but not overly, a little piece of an exotic climate that Essex can only dream of. This beer is vibrant and invigorating and just what the doctor ordered. This is Kernel Pale Ale territory yet I picked it up from the supermarket (albeit a posh supermarket, but supermarket nonetheless).
This is very good news indeed.
Unfortunately this bottle doesn’t maintain these qualities in the same way that something like Kernel Centennial does (a beer I’d cut a few fingers off to have a lifetime supply of) but even so, Essex Summer Ale knocks the socks off it’s peers.
If it has one flaw it’s that it suffers slightly from smells-better-than-it-tastes syndrome, that most frustrating of beer qualities, the equivalent of getting Kelly Brook naked in your bed whilst you are forced to spend the night wrapped tightly in industrial cling film right next to her.
Crouch Vale have done M&S proud with Essex Summer Ale and no doubt it’ll fly off the shelves. In fact, I’m going back tomorrow and clearing the shelves, summer’s nearly out and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to try this again (it may well be the last summer beer of 2010).
Beer: Essex Pale AleTags: essex, grapefruit, grass, kernel, m&s, summer
Brewery: M&S/Crouch Vale
Style: Pale Ale