September 24th 2013 – Feeling much better

Some time has past and it took longer to get over my operation than I expected.  Emotionally speaking.  I think I was too wrapped up with myself in the present and wasn’t interested in linkages to past places, people and food.

Happily, with this late summer in full swing I want to write again.  Mainly for myself but hey.

I can’t remember when I first tasted beer.  I can remember the first time I bought a drink in a pub though:

“Good evening, lads” said the landlord in The Great Northern (now Brennen’s Bar).  This was a pub near, not surprisingly, the train station in Spalding.  I was out with a friend, Dave P. and it was his idea.

“What would you like?”, he asked us.

This threw me, despite not being unused to the Pub environment, my Dad having seen to that throughout my early years.  He never let me order drinks though, and the last time he bought me one in a Pub was when I was about 11 and it was a Bitter Lemon in the Castle Inn, Coningsby.  He quizzed me about horse-racing in front of his friends

“Who is the ‘Wizard of Finden’ ?”

Actually I cannot find any reference to this name now.  There doesn’t even seem to be a place in England called Finden.  After all these years my memory clings on to half-remembered facts and events.  The answer I gave was

“Fred Winter”

but he trained at Lambourne, apparently.  Well, there you go.

Anyway, back to the Great Northern.

“What do you recommend? I asked.

He looked us up and down a bit (shades of 10cc) and then said

“Rum and Black.  That’s what you want”.

In later years I found out this was a Ladies’ drink but I still don’t think the landlord was being unkind.  I liked it, anyway.

The first beer I remember drinking was Sam Smiths Old Brewery Bitter in the very back room of the Olde White Horse in Spalding.  This was a private, curtained off room where twice a week the RAOB club met.  It was also where a group of us used to meet up on Youth Club nights.  At 40p a pint, ‘same glass please’, £2 was enough for a good evening.

I had to work for nearly 5 hours at a local garden centre for that pleasure.  Now just one hour’s work gets me plenty.  I must be getting on in the world, or just getting on.

So last Sunday I cooked lamb and slowly made my way through 6 bottles of fine, modern English Beer.  Here’s what happened:

Braised Shoulder of Lamb with Potatoes and Lemon

This is from ‘Recipes and Ramblings’ by Elisabeth Luard, inspired by a vist to Kale, Turkey.

You will need for 6 people

A robustly chunked shoulder of lamb.  2ish kg, hacked into 6 pieces.  Actually I made the recipe with half a shoulder and cut through the meat to the bone to give 3/4 good pieces.  They come away from the bone easily enough after cooking.  The hacksaw looked a bit rusty in any event.

A good few slugs of Olive oil

Enough waxy potatoes for 6 people, peeled and cut into pieces just large enough to fit into your mouth.

2 lemons, scrubbed if waxed, roughly chopped

Half a dozen good sized garlic cloves, cut in half, leaving the skin on.

Fresh Rosemary.  I don’t know how big your sprigs are.  Tread the middle ground between too little to make an impact and too much to overpower the dish.

Tablespoon of dried Oregano.  You need dried, to stand up to the long cooking time.

1 good glass of white wine, a good ‘every-day drinking’ quality.  On the dry side.

Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper.  Or hit some peppercorns hard enough to crack them, in a controlled way so they don’t pepper the kitchen.

Lots of bitter, peppery leaves.  I used rocket, curly endive and lamb’s lettuce.

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Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.  Put everything (but not the salad you fool!) in a roasting tin, mix together with your hands, rubbing the meat well with the flavourings.  Cover with foil and cook for an hour or more, until the meat starts to come away from the bone, ie quite tender.

Remove the foil and 3/4 of the juices.  Mix everything again, taking care that the potatoes don’t break up and put back into the oven for 30 minutes or so, until the potatoes bown a little.  I stuck the grill on, protecting the lamb with foil to help this along.  Tinged though, not blackened.

Meanwhile, you want to get rid of as much of the fat as possible from the juices.  Freezer for 20 minutes may work and spoon off the fat on the top.  I used on of those ‘upside-down jugs’ that let you pour from the bottom of the jug.  Reduce this to a good coating consistency.  You will use this to dress your pile of bitter leaves.

Eat.

Now for the beers, starting with the weakest (in alcohol) of the bunch.

Redchurch Brewery Broadway Black Ale

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I’m very, very surprised.  This must be the tastiest 2.9% beer I’ve ever drunk.  Enough malt, well-hopped (but not overly, thank goodness), lovely white head and a full mouthfeel which is a real accomplishment.  I’m also glad they’ve called it a Black Ale instead of the self-contradictory idea of a Black Pale Ale, so beloved by some IPA makers.  IBA is what that is.

Real dilemma now.  What comes next?  Beavertown or Kernel Pale Ale? Or Siren’s Liquid Mistress Red IPA (IRA! Or is that why they call it a Red IPA?).  It’s a ripper of a beer.

Beavertown Gamma Ray American Pale Ale 5.4%

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I’ve a soft-spot for Beavertown beers.  They have some of the best labels going and they make great beer.  Here goes this one.

Relatively lightly hopped, slight orangey bitterness, good.

Let’s go Kernel now.  Fortunately there should be some Kernel available in Belgium this week.  Don’t hold your breath, anything could go wrong.  But if it doesn’t, be quick.  Be very quick.

The Kernel India Pale Ale Simcoe Centennial Motueka 6.4%

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My word, that’s good.  Astonishing actually.  Perfect hop balancing, great malt.  Slight toffee apple, makes you want to chew but you can’t.  Nutty, biscuit, there’s an elusive taste there.  Marie-Rose finds apricot.  She’s right.

Two Weird Beards and the Siren Red to go.  Shall I split the Weirds?  Perhaps.  But I don’t think that’ll work.  I have ‘Holy Hoppin’ Hell’, a double IPA at 9.7% and Bad Habit, a Belgian Tripel at 8.6%.  Go on, the Mistress it is.

Siren Craft Brew Liquid Mistress Red IPA 5.8%

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I like RIPpArs but mourn the loss of Brodie’s Hackney Red from my supplier, The Bottle Shop in Canterbury.  That was a lovely beer.  Of course, The Kernel’s collab with Brodie’s ‘London Brick’ was unimaginably good, unless you had some.  Damn that was good beer.  This is fine, not quite in the top places but if you like Everton then you’ll understand.  At West Ham we’d have this beer any day of the week.

So, last two beers of the afternoon.  The two Weird Beards.  I must say that I don’t like ‘funny’ labels or names on beers.  The Kernel may be minimalist but for me that is infinitely preferable to elves and stuff.  Anyway, here we go.

Weird Beard Holy Hoppin’ Hell.  A Double IPA.  9.7%

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Blimey.  That’s clever.  All you want from a high alcohol IPA but it’s not cloying.  Slight burnt raisin but the light effervescence cleans the tongue between draughts.  It’s like a space has been left in your mouth for another glug.  So I will.  I like this.

And last, onto the one I was a bit apprehensive about.

Weird Beard & Northern Monk Brew Co Bad Habit A Belgian Tripel 8.6%

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Smells and tastes like a small Belgian Brewery beer.  Which could be a complement, if that’s what they were trying to do.  Unluckily for me I know a few much better Tripels and if I want to drink a beer of that style I won’t be opening one of these again.  That’s just my opinion.  I guess that’s the Belgian yeast  I can taste there, the Cascade seems a bit lost.

Hindsight suggests that the last two should’ve been swopped around.  I’m not even finishing the last one, the first 5 were enough entertainment over a Sunday afternoon.

© Bob Cavanagh, 2013, http://www.deliciouslydifferent.be