Monday, 13 June 2011

Seeing the amber light

Something unexpected has happened to me since I’ve been living in England. I’ve become a beer snob. Really, no one could be more surprised than me.

I grew up believing that the measure of a good beer is how cold it is. The colder, the better because we were indoctrinated with the slogan ‘a hard earned thirst needs a big cold beer’. Pub selections were always based on which one served the coldest beer (chilled glasses scored highly) rather than the type they actually kept.

When I arrived in the UK and was served tepid, flat beer, helpfully labelled ‘bitter', initially I was perplexed. How could the beer stay cold when poured by the pint rather than the pot? Clearly the poms weren't working up much of a thirst.

I'm not sure exactly when or how it happened but at some point over the last 4 years I had a beer epiphany. Its like discovering iberico after being raised on spam or drinking a proper espresso after making do with instant coffee. Suddenly the penny drops.

Just as I learned that the taste of coffee differs enormously depending on the origin of the bean and how its roasted and brewed, I came to appreciate that beer is a similarly complex beast. The hops, the malt, the alcohol content and the brewing recipe all add up to a smorgasbord of styles from porter and stout to lager, pale ale and yep, good old bitter, a far cry from Victoria Bitter, which I now recognise as a pretty piss poor lager.

As my exposure to different beers has widened, so too has my beer vocabulary from 'mmm its cold' to it's 'biscuity' 'floral', 'citrusy', 'grassy' or 'treacly'. To drink generic bottled lager now seems completely uninspiring, even if its a frosty cold one. Its hard to go back to instant coffee once you’ve had a flat white.

Having seen the amber light I'm thirsty for knowledge and eager to research.  

You'll find me arriving with beer instead of wine when invited for dinner;

Meantime's Porter goes down a treat at a barbeque
I spend my days off visiting micro brewerys like The Kernel,

The Kernel Brewery in Bermondsey
where they hand label every bottle;

a labour of love that few could appreciate.

Angelle stamping Lantana takeaway cups

I seek out pubs based on the range of beer they serve rather then its temperature;    

The Jerusalem Tavern in Clerkenwell
The Charles Lamb in Islington
And of course, I look for opportunities to incorporate beer into my cooking.

Beef and Stout Pie- recipe below
Like a true evangelist, I want to share my new love so Lantana is now stocking some interesting craft beers. Come in and enjoy a cold frosty, metaphorically speaking.

Beef and Stout Pie
(serves 4)

750g stewing beef such as skirt, chuck or shin
4 tbsp plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp tomato purée
500ml Stout
350g shallots, peeled
1 tablespoon muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Few sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, peeled 
200g chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced
500g puff pastry
1 egg lightly beaten

Dice the beef into 2.5cm cubes and toss it in the seasoned flour to coat.

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the beef until golden brown. Add the tomato purée and cook for 1 minute, stirring well. Pour in the stout and add the sugar, soy sauce, shallot, thyme, bay leaf and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 1.5 hours. Half an hour before the end of the cooking time, add the mushrooms. Once cooked, remove the bay leaf and discard. Allow the mixture to cool.
Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6.
Transfer the meat to a 20cm pie dish.
Roll out the pastry and cover the pie. Scrunch the pastry to the edge of the dish and trim around the edge, leaving 1-2cm overhanging. Brush the top with the egg.

Bake for 15-20 minutes.