NB: Sorry about the lack of photos, this fool forgot to take his camera and phone battery died. I’ve used some POS from the Flying Dog site.
Last Thursday saw me leaving the BSF bar partway through the day to amble on down to the White Horse at Parson's Green. I'd heard a lot about this pub, the fact that it is often referred to as the "Sloaney Pony" due to the drinking crowd it attracts, but not one to let other people's opinions cloud my judgement I thought I'd better check it out for myself. Why this particular night? Well besides being the first day of the annual American Beer Festival there was another event that had caught my eye: a cheese and beer pairing evening with Flying Dog. I was already toying with the idea when I heard about the beer; the cheese made it a no brainer!
Arriving at the pub around 6:30 I found it to be fairly full of a diverse clientele, with a number of people sat outside waiting for a BBQ. An astonishing array of beers awaited inside, both on keg and cask and after perusing my choices settled for a half of Sierra Nevada Kolsch, a beer I had no idea they brewed! I sat at a table where I was talked at by a fairly drunk office worker with socialist sympathies; so was glad to escape upstairs for the real event.
|The tongue-tingling selection of beers|
A stunning selection lay before me on the bar, four keg Flying Dog beers and three on cask. I also espied Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti which got my pulse racing too! The room had been decked out in brewery regalia and an American flag hung from the ceiling. Care had been taken to give every place a copy of the matching menu (see pic) and separate tasting notes were handed out to those needing them.
Once the 30 or so people had settled at their places Dom, the organiser of the event took the floor to welcome everyone and set the scene for the night. He then surrendered the floor to Matt Brophy. Not only were we lucky enough to try the Flying Dog beers but the Brewmaster had come along to guide us through it (he brought the CEO Jim Caruso along too). Through a mixture of talent and luck Matt has reached the position of Brewmaster at the tender age of 35. He gave us a brief biography, saying that he was inspired to begin home brewing at the age of 17 after listening to a radio interview with Charlie Papazian. His parents didn’t seem to mind that he was brewing beer four years before legally allowed to drink it! After that he managed to get a voluntary job at his local brewery then headed off to brewing school at the Siebel institute in Chicago. He worked at Great Divide before becoming head brewer at Flying Dog in 2003.
We were then given a delightful overview of the Flying Dog philosophy by Jim, who has been with the brewery for yonks and knows pretty much all there is to know about its inception and ethos, including the connection to Hunter S. Thompson and beer label artist Ralph Steadman. Jim could sense that we were eager to try the beers; so as the efficient and lovely bar staff filled our glasses Jim described the first beer: In Heat Wheat (4.7%) matched with Swiss Emmental. This beer had all the right characteristics for a weisse, banana and rich wheat on the nose, a big fluffy white head and cloves in the body. The beer definitely enhanced the flavour of the cheese but left a disagreeable metallic tang and vegetal finish.
Next up was the Doggie Style Classic Pale Ale (5.5%) pepper and cinnamon on the nose with Keen’s Farmhouse Cheddar cheese. Wow this was some amazing cheese! Luckily for me (unfortunately for him) the guy sat next to me had over indulged at dinner time and did not feel like eating so I got double helpings of this earthy, dry masterpiece. The slightly resinous and well carbonated beer really brought out the flavour in the cheese, ending on a not unpleasant slatey note. This beer was produced from a 90 minute boil and enhanced by dry hopping in the fermenter.
Midway through the evening and we face a monster: 10% Single Hop Centennial IIPA. Except it wasn’t single hop as Matt let on it had been dry hopped with two further varieties in the cask. That’s right, you read correctly, this beast of a beer was on cask and didn’t suffer for it! A rich nose of mangos and lemons, deep amber in colour with lots more mango in the body and a resinous finish. Coupled with the crushed peppercorns on the Monterey Jack melted on rye it really assaulted the taste buds in a delicious way. Matt told us that their cask beer is primed with Belgian Candy Sugar to ensure the all important secondary fermentation and that their beers are suitable for vegans as they use no fining.
I didn’t think the night could get any better but I was wrong...Two further beers in quick succession and Matt’s assertion from the start of the night that the initially quiet audience would liven up as the night wore on was becoming true. I found all manner of questions that I wanted answering, but luckily the guys were working the tables and knew their stuff; so I found out what I wanted and more. After the IIPA we were treated to Raging Bitch (8.3%), again on cask. This is their Belgian yeast IPA and my was it drinkable. No cheese match supplied with this one, but I reckon a good stinky washed rind could have worked well. An apple ester nose with a fairly dry, astringent and bitter body with hay character from the Brett. Matt tells us that a night on these beers can lead to a thumping hangover in the morning, which they refer to as being “Bitch-slapped”. It’s easy to see how this can happen as the alcohol is so well hidden.
Dog Schwartz (7.8%) is a beer with an identity crisis but doesn’t suffer for it. It’s a hybrid of a double Schwartz and a rauchbier and has the best of both styles. Smokey bacon and chocolate on the nose it has a creamy texture, gentle smoke and finishes on a golden syrup note. It uses cascade for the aroma hops and perle for bittering. They get their malt from Germany where it is beechwood smoked and around 50% of the total malt bill is the smoked stuff.
Dubious as to how the night could be bettered I was again proven wrong with the grand finale: Barrel aged Gonzo Imperial Porter with Toasted American Oak (9.2%) dry hopped in the cask with cascade and matched with room temperature Colston Basset Stilton. Wow. This beer was breathtaking and with the cheese simply sublime. Fruity, vanilla ice-cream, chocolate and boozy nose with coffee, resinous hops and even more chocolate in the luxuriantly thick body. The oak adding extra vanilla and the dry hops rounding out the beer. This is exponentially better than the bottled version, and that is already a great beer. This matched exceedingly well with the piquant fruity flavours of the stilton; so much so that I had to avail the tray on the bar of an additional two glasses worth. For a beer described as having “a shit-tonne of hops” they’re remarkably well hidden and the beer is very balanced. The thought of this pairing is still making me salivate; it’s a no brainer that this is the cheese and beer pairing of the month.
I finished on a half of the aforementioned great divide and was not disappointed, Matt’s former employers don’t seem to have suffered without him and half the pub agreed as I shared the beer around. After a very topical conversation on dispense and cask conditioned beers with Oz Clarke (whose best pint was a Batemans XXXB some years ago) and telling Roger Protz to try the Revelation Cat 3-yo Lambic Laphroaig Cask on BSF (he didn’t!) I called an end to the highlight of my week and returned to my hotel room and fell in a contented slumber, accompanied by the inevitable cheese-aided dreams.
I would like to say thank you to all of those involved in making this night memorable, to Dom for organising the whole thing, James Clay for getting the beers, the bar girls who were very smiley, friendly, efficient (not to mention pleasing to the eye) and quick to offer refills. Also to Matt and Jim who were an excellent double-act for the evening. I feel much more educated about so many things and they left me wanting to visit the brewery. Cheese and beer pairing is no new thing to Flying Dog, they host frequent beer dinners, something I’d love to see more of in the UK. Their beer leaflet also has a whole ream of pairing suggestions for each beer. I bumped into the guys again the following day at GBBF looking remarkably bright eyed and bushy tailed. The Hunter S. Thompson quote which Jim gave at the start of the night “good people drink good beer” can certainly be expanded to “great brewers brew great beer”.
PS sorry for all the apparent name dropping but I think they add to my account of the evening, and yes I am aware that all of my CABPOM’s so far have been with dark beer and usually blue cheese, I’ll try to mix things up a bit for next month but no promises!