The most wonderful time for beer

The only bit of Christmas shopping I like is carefully selecting the beers to enjoy over the holiday period. The most important choices are the beers to be savoured alongise the Christmas meal itself.

Food and beer pairings can be a joy but also at times the attempts to get them right can be a real test of endurance. Christmas Day dinner can be one of those occasions where choosing the right beers can be a particular ordeal, simply because of the range of food and differing flavours being experienced. One caveat is that Christmas seasonal beers may not be ideal because of the strong flavours contained within. These can be perfect on their own (e.g. BrewDog’s Hoppy Christmas while decorating the Christmas tree) but depending on the specific profile of each beer, they can be tricky to match with food, particularly a Christmas menu.

Menus of course vary between households but a common thread exists – deep, rich and luxurious foods that will appeal to a broad range of ages and people around the table. Some may go with a 1970s style with a prawn cocktail to start and a trifle to finish but others may have soup or light starter finishing off with the traditional heavyweight Christmas pudding. At the heart of most menus will be a roast. An obvious choice given so many dishes to be prepared for one meal, taking advantage of a slow-cooking main course helps preserve the sanity of the chef.

Christmas Menu

Starters

Prawn Cocktail

The problem with this course is not necessarily being careful not to overpower the prawns themselves but the Marie Rose sauce. The tang of the ketchup is the key feature of this dish.

Verdict: Galway Hooker is a fantastic match (it would also be an excellent choice for a Christmas all rounder).

Smoked Salmon

This can go in many directions. A Weisse beer that has strong lemony-citrus notes such as Franciscan Well’s Friar Weisse would work here as could O’Hara’s Curim Gold. Belgian Wit beers would be okay but to be aware that not everyone likes coriander as much as one might think. Hitachino Nest’s Weisse is a stunning match for smoked salmon (tried it at a tasting earlier this year), after all Japanese independent breweries are making incredible beers that match fish perfectly. I’m also thinking of the smoke and some porters would work here (e.g.  Five Lamps’ Blackpitts porter would bring something to the dish). A light smoked taste with also a bit of body would be O’Hara’s Stout. While it has flaked oats in the beer, a wholemeal stout itself could be too filling. We’re not having a sandwich here and we have to leave room for the main course itself. For citrus aromas and flavour, it’s easy to go down the route of an IPA but you should air on the side of caution. We would need an IPA that doesn’t have too much heft in the body in terms of caramel malt. An interesting possibility to use a black IPA (e.g. burnt notes in Eight Degrees’ Zeus along with some citrus character but have already selected one of theirs for later).

Verdict: Estrella Damm Inedit, need I say more. The bottle brings a certain celebration to the proceedings. It just pairs like no other, after-all it was perfectly crafted to accompany many a dish at the now closed elBulli. Even with the subtle spiciness of the coriander, this wheat beer brings champagne-like joy to the drinker.

Pate with Cumberland sauce

This starter has been chosen to represent the “cold” course, which buys you precious time on the day to focus on the other courses (also it’s Christmas for the Chef as well).

Verdict: Crafty Dan’s Big Ben, which evokes bright red fruits and picks up on the cumberland sauce. It has slight notes on the aroma with nutty flavours, but the fruits with a light spicing making this an excellent pairing (especially with the bread on the table).

Main Course

Roast Turkey, all the trimmings etc

As we eat an usual array of food during one sitting, an easy bet would be an ale (especially a strong ale if you want to indulge) from the land of pie and mash. However, there’s a complete overload of flavours on the table from the roast turkey and ham to other meats (or vegetable roasts), the herbs and spices that permeate both the stuffing and the side dishes, the cranberry sauce and other condiments. Also in keeping with a little bit of luxury that is Christmas dinner, the bottle is also important. For this the large sharing bottles are required because they capture the conviviality of the meal itself. A Bière de Garde such as 3 Monts, pick up on the herbaceaous aspects of the meal as well as bring a welcome refreshment with each sip.

Verdict: Chimay Première (Red) is ideal. It is not as full bodied as the Grand Reserve but it interesting and would match the roast flavours, including the slight caramel sweetness that occurs. The fact that it’s a Trappist offering, it lends a certain reverential awe to the day itself. Belgian Dubbels and Tripels ideally match large and hearty meals.

Desert

Christmas Pudding/Chocolate/rich desert

After gorging on 3 courses, the pace starts to slow and conscious that the board games might make an appearance, it’s time to pair the desert and coffee course with what better than a strong stout that exudes coffee and chocolate notes that perfectly complement this course. Of course, if it was just the Christmas Pudding or cake, a barley wine like Louder from the Porterhouse or Belgian Quad would work here equally.

Verdict: Eight Degrees’ Russian Imperial Stout because it’s good to celebrate all the good things in life and what’s better than to toast another remarkable year for Irish brewing than an excellent strong stout. Forget the espresso, the kitchen’s now closed.

Post-meal simply enjoying Christmas night

This is for when people decamp to couches and the Christmas present DVD box-sets come out or a movie on the TV. This is time for a sipping beer that will also pair along with the moment that when you think you couldn’t eat any more, one feels the need to make a sandwich with the leftovers. For me, I’ve always been partial to Delirium Tremens because there’s a fair bit of pleasant complexity going on. This could the time to open the O’Hara’s Double IPA or if you have some relatively strong beer in stock.

Verdict: Brooklyn Local No.2 because I want to keep in with the dark Belgian strong ales. This is luxuriant in its spiciness with sweetness coming from of honey which compliments the dark fruit and chocolate flavours.

 

 

Pliny the Employer

The presence of so many multinational companies in Ireland has, besides much publicised economic impact, brings  benefits to the quality and range of beers in Ireland. Incoming staff after trying the obligatory pint of Guinness in (insert name of traditional pub experience) soon long for the broad range of beers available at home and find themselves seeking out the many specialist beer bars and off licences. Irish staff spending time at company locations overseas have the opportunity to explore new taste beer sensations. I know several people in the tech sector that this is a key perk of the job! Indeed, some companies arrange craft beer Fridays for their staff. However, a further benefit presented itself over the past month. We all know that multinational companies also are vital sources of job creation and one of the newest MNCs to arrive in Ireland just went and hired @Beermack_ The final round of interviews took place in San Francisco (read the adventures of the Frisco Kid here http://beermack.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/san-francisco-beering/). Alex of course found space in his luggage to bring back some rare beers on this side of the Atlantic, which means for yours truly I got to try one of those fabled beers that features on many a beer “bucket list”.

Pliny the Elder is the creation of Vinnie Cilurzo, the man credited with crafting the first Double IPA during his days at the Blind Pig brewery back in the early 1990s. He didn’t brew his second DIPA which was Pliny the Elder until 2000, shortly after he acquired Russian River Brewing from the owners of Korbel Champagne Cellars in 2002. Vinnie had been brewing there since it opened five years earlier. It was under his ownership that this Sonoma brewery was going to make its mark on the beer world.

Defining itself as a DIPA, it was going to have a higher alcohol strength then the traditional IPA (Pliny is 8% ABV) and of course a higher degree of hopintensity, comprising Simcoe, Centennial, CTZ and Amarillo. Pliny was one of the beers that made Simcoe famous. It was also a beer that showed craft brewers that hop extracts were not the products of Satan. Instead the use of extract results in a smoother bitterness. It’s backed up by a balanced malt backbone that’s not overly sweet. The balanced nature of Pliny sums up the skilled craftsmanship that’s gone into this beer. In short this beer can be summed up as

  • Hop aroma  CHECK
  • Hop flavour CHECK
  • Hop bitterness CHECK

Pliny for me was marked by citrus (a blend of orange and grapefruit), pine and slight peppery flavour. Unapologetically, I don’t have more photos because I was simply enjoying the beer. The beer was sublimely balanced and it is up there as one of the finest beers I’ve had. Now for those that are used to DIPAs and newer stronger or more aromatic hops, this may not be a favourite. However, remember that 13 years have past since this beer was first brewed. Hops such as Citra were only in the development phase at the time. Things are called classics for a reason!

Short of working for a MNC, I’m going to have to make do with paying for my own beer pilgrimage to the West Coast to visit Russian River and others. Thankfully Aer Lingus is reintroducing its direct Dublin to San Francisco flight from Spring 2014. So I would be lying if I havent already been checking out the fares and hopefully looking to take advantage of increased competition on the Atlantic.

Musings on the best Irish beer fest yet

The All-Ireland Craft Beer and Cider Festival has attracted a lot of attention online and save from repeating a previous post, I have opted to provide a series of short observations on the festival. Oh and did I mention that I attended all four days because where else would I be!

Packed house on Festival Saturday

In no particular order:

  1. Biggest festival yet! Huge crowds over the four days (over 10,000 according to Ruben @TaleofAle). It was packed on the Friday and many had made their way up from the Aviva after the Ireland-Sweden march but Saturday was something else. The crowds simply kept on coming with a queue to get in and an even bigger one at the token stand.  if keeps growing like this, it’ll probably have to move into the main hall next door.
  2. Two collaboration brews can be best described as sweet. The O’Hara’s/JW Sweetman’s version containing honey. There’s a story to be told about it but can be best summed up as there’s a group of people out there nerdier than beer enthusiasts – honey people! Troubled Hooker from guess which two breweries (see my previous post if you can’t for the life of you work out who it is) was a mistake gone well. It was supposed to be a Double IPA but became almost a sweet Belgian Tripel, even sweeter than Kwak.
  3. Dry-hopped Irish reds, what’s the point? The malt sweetness is there for a reason. Leave the hops for the “Irish” pale ales & co.
  4. The Hop Randall festival goes to try the Kinsale Pale Ale with added Simcoe, Citra and Nelson Sauvin. The Hop Randall  has now been introduced by the Bull and Castle and the Bierhaus in Cork . Has it already been condemned to the realm of gimmick?
  5. Franciscan Well wasn’t picketed by members of the craft purist front and the casks ran dry fairly early on. Punters weren’t put off by this big beer-owned concern.
  6. In previous years Dungarvan trialled their seasonal beers for the following year (Comeragh Challenger and Mahon Falls). Cormac brought six variants with him, including a Saison, Amber Ale, Mild, session DIPA, Wit IPA and an IPA. I  still don’t know which or if any are scheduled for release  in 2014.
  7. Every time the show the All-Ireland Hurling Final On festival Sunday, it ends in a draw.
  8. In past years people flocked to the White Gypsy stand to imbibe on the stronger beers available. However, I don’t know what is happening down in Templemore as a string of very fine session beers turned up at this year’s festival.
  9. Did every band at the festival do a cover of The Lumineers’ Ho Hey? Don’t get me started about the Johnny Cash covers!
  10. Two barley wines at the festival and two were duly sampled. I know barley wines are known for their port/sherry like comparisons but I’m not going to go into how one was sweet (Porterhouse) and one was dry (O’Hara’s). That’s just going too far!
  11. Putting the newer breweries in one corner (although Brú was across the way) grouped in one corner was a great way of concentrating interest in them. One thing noticed is that the newer breweries have fantastic branding and T-shorts for sale (in the past this sort of behaviour was confined to Metalman and the Porterhouse).
  12. Beers to look out for include Eight Degrees’ Amber Ella (might give Howling Gale Ale a run for its money in the popularity stakes), Kinsale Pale Ale (a great beer to show to festival novices that Ireland can match Sierra Nevada et al), Mountain Man’s Hairy Goat (nice copper ale for the autumn) and hopefully Five Lamps will release the darker version of their Liberties Ale (they have a lager so why put out a golden ale?).
The fantastic branding from some of the newer breweries at the festival