Book Review: The London Cheese & Wine Guide

I saw a review of this book elsewhere on the internet and thought it would fit this blog well and requested a review copy.(yes I know this is primarily a beer blog, but as its my blog I choose what goes).   I was kindly obliged and it arrived today. If I didn't like it then I would say so! As I mentioned to the writers, I probably would have ended up buying one anyway, but this way its more timely given that its just been released in time for the Christmas market I have no doubt.

Its a stylish looking volume, paperback with glossy card cover and full colour throughout. Handily arranged into sections by business type, with cheese given the respect it deserves and coming first*. We're taken through the top specialist shops, delicatessens and even more impressively the cheese stalls at borough market. There's a top 5 given for each section to aid you in your cheesy quest should the choice become overwhelming. I particularly like the full market guide, showing all the London markets and which cheese vendors attend each and when, very useful! This would come in handy for an out of town tourist like myself in deciding which particular market would be best to visit.

I also learnt that I'm a turophile. No that doesn't mean I have an affinity with a certain Cornish town but it means I'm a lover of cheese. Stay tuned for a post on the symptomns of turophilia...

On the wine side of things we're given a selection of wine merchants and wine bars. There's also a selection on retailers which provide both cheese and wine (for all your one-stop cheese and wine party organising needs) and restaurants that have particularly impressive wine lists and cheese boards. Stuffed full of information alongside the essentials such as nearest tube station and contact details we get the owners names and typical pricing, by glass of wine or type of cheese (with brie de meaux, cheddar, parmigano-reggiano and stilton taken as benchmarks).

As is always the case I find there's a pile of cheeses I've not even heard of, let alone tasted but now I know where to find them and roughly what I'll be paying for the privilege too! I found myself adding venues to visit to Google maps as I was flicking through, a sure sign the guide is doing its job. I think a handy addition would have been a basic map of London showing the approximate location of each venue; so those short of time or staying in a particular area can see what's nearby. 

Some useful symbols to find the information you need.
Although the bulk of the book is taken up by the aforementioned listings there are also guides on buying, storing and tasting cheeses and wines and a handy wine styles aroma chart (which if you're a complete wine newbie like myself comes in handy for working out what I might like). There are also a few recipes from featured establishments (with the Deli Downstairs' Pork, Thyme and Tallegio pizza sounding particularly tasty)  and a cheese and wine pairings table with some suggested matches. I'm a little disappointed to find that beer and cider have only been suggested as matches for manchego and cheddar, especially given their favourite pairings include London Porter with Gruyère and cider with a blue cheese! I suppose I should be grateful they even get a mention in what is essentially a monobooze book.

Overall I can happily recommend the book for those looking to seek out some cheesy and wine delights in London's capital, there's certainly enough of them!

The London Cheese & Wine Guide  by Lucy Gregory and Jeffrey Young is available direct from the publishers, Allegra for £11.95+P&P, or as usual on Amazon for a little less. The website also has some good supporting information and offers a subscription service of £5 pa to access the book listings, additional updates and recipes. Follow them on twitter @LCandWG.

Big thanks to Hana Gajdosova for the review copy and the Allegra team for writing such a useful guide.

*I suspect this has more to do with the order in the title, but I'll pretend to please myself.


History Repeated

As I have oft mentioned before, Fullers Brewery is one which I have a soft spot for. They have a great number of beers in their portfolio, the majority of which are bang on the money in my opinion. Better still are their one-off special releases such as historical recreations "Past Masters" and annual vintage ales.
So I was excited to hear that John Keeling had opened the history books again to brew the recreation of a Burton Ale. This is one of the great styles that has fallen by the wayside in recent years or absorbed into the ubiquitous "barley wine" category that anything that is above 7% and  isn't obviously an IPA or stout tends to be sucked in to. Martyn Cornell speaks much more eloquently on beer styles and history and in a lot more detail than I could hope to achieve; so I'll defer to him on this occasion. Boak & Bailey also did good work identifying extant-examples of Burtons in the UK. I'm here to comment on the actual beer.

I had the forethought to keep a bottle of each of the preceding Past Masters releases to do a side-by-side comparison. Not that there should be anything in similar other than the Fuller's yeast strain but I find a single bottle tasting to be more than a bit dull. I had Reuben @taleofale, Daisy and my CAMRA friend Julie to provide further thoughts and drinking comradeship.

Old Burton Extra 7.3%  10/9/1931
It pours a deep chestnut brown with with slight cream head with dark fruit, burnt sugar and a medium body. Its very easy drinking but could perhaps become cloying after more than half a bottle (hence the  sharing). I actually prefer the Fullers 1845 (First brewed 1995!)  though, its got more lighter fruit marmalade notes to lift up the heavier malt sugars and at about half the price for a bottle and bottle conditioned to boot its a better bet.

XX Strong Ale 7.5%  2/9/1891
Pouring chestnut-orange its reminiscent of some West Coast IPAs with esters and higher alcohols on the nose of a strong Belgian effort. Its sweet with pineapples and honey. Medium carbonation and more than a bit of alcohol burn. There's something to it that minds me of what I'm not keen on in a dubbel and for that reason I struggled to finish my 1/3 bottle. Others rhapsodised over it.

Double Stout 7.4%  4/8/1893
Darkest brown with fluffy cola head. Tobacco, dates and sultanas on the nose. Thick, rich, toffee, redcurrant, toast, chocolate, gentle carbonation, long roast coffee finish. This one is fantastic and vindicates the whole endeavour. I'd love to see this in regular production and reminds me a lot of some of The Kernel's recreations.

I'm pleased to have been able to try these beers of yesteryear and hope that John finds many more recipes lurking in the archives. He's by no means the only brewer doing it but as the quantities involved are much bigger its certainly the most accessible. Whether or not I enjoyed them is somewhat irrelevant!


German beer is best?

I'm a few months late with this post, but I've only just drunk the beers; so consider it useful information for next year. Oktoberfest beers are becoming more and more prevalent outside of Germany, both exported and domestically brewed varieties. Thornbridge have recently released one which I'm yet to try.

One I have been able to try however is Ireland's 8-Degrees Ochtoberfest. Brewed on August 8th (8/8) at 8 degrees West of Greenwich.
For comparative purposes I picked up some German festbiers, namely Spaten Oktoberfestbier, Erdinger Festweiße, Weißenoher Altfränkisch Klosterbier and Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest-Marzen. The first thing to note is that there is a wide range of colours, although the ABV of all of the beers is similar. The Erdinger isin keeping with the rest of that brewery's output and a weisse bier.

Up first, the Klosterbier. It looks appealing with a traffic-light amber with fluffy snow-white head. Its  flinty, dry, fruity and toffee on the nose, so far so good. Unfortunately its too highly carbonated and harsh in the mouth, dry, bland and astringent with no finish. I had to ditch it after a few gulps. Not a very promising start.

The Erdinger didn't really raise the standard. Normally I'm fairly impressed by Erdinger beers despite being mass-produced they still have a fair amount of flavour. Not on this occasion though,i n fact the mouth feel was about the only thing going for it, with none of the traditional weizen esters in attendance I may as well have been drinking barley water.

Spaten was a bit of a surprise, pouring the palest of golds, not so much marzen as kolsch-style. There are some pleasant lemon and banana notes but again a harshly astringent finish with a touch of aspartame-like sweetness. Perhaps the use of hop syrup had something to do with it?!

Hacker-Pschorr is a beer I enjoyed on draught at National Winter Ales Fest this year. I say enjoyed, I meant I tolerated it. I say tolerated I meant I fobbed it off onto Daisy. In bottle it seems to have held up a little better. It has some of that alleged doughiness that I've hitherto failed to find and a pleasing mouth feel. The first beer I didn't feel needed chucking.

Finally; the Ochtoberfest from Eight Degrees reprised its debut at the Dublin beerfest in bottle form. Immediately the contrast was stark. There's an aroma this times-light cloves on nose with orange & licorice. Medium carbonation, doughy, marmalade, a bit thin bodied, booze, sweet, noble hop finish. Its the best of the bunch, but would I go out of my way to try it again? Probably not. As to whether it successfully mimics a German Oktoberfest beer I can't really say, but going by the evidence of the preceding beers maybe not.

On this evidence I'm beginning to think that the style is perhaps not for me and it joins the ranks of bocks, dubbels and Irish Ales as "ones to avoid" in my book.


Beer Nut

The Beer Nut was kind enough to take a couple of the International Arms Race beers off of my hands and leave me some of his homebrew in return. I must confess to liking his 'brand-name'-"Dodgio" and its great to see all of the ingredients on the label, even down to the yeast used, something I wish other brewers would do.

Informative labelling, my favourite!
Pours hazy burnished gold with Nelson Sauvin grapey kiwi aromas distinguishable at ten paces (didn't even need the comprehensive ingredients list to know this one!). Moving closer there's tangerines and a light sourness. There's gentle carbonation and the flavour is all about the tangerine at first with a gentle bitterness and balanced malt. Those tropical flavours and low bitterness remind me a lot of |Roosters Baby Faced Assassin. This beer drinks like a session beer, I'd love another!

A Dark brown with coca-cola head. Chocolate, acorn coffee, touch of roast barley and sleepy yeast on the nose. At first there's chocolate and orange fruit followed by a long nipping, warming chilli that gets the tip of your tongue and back of your throat. Chocolate makes a final flourish before the chilli leaves a lingering glow. Quite light bodied and fairly low in carbonation, the head took some coaxing to form then disappeared.

Again two fantastic homebrews that would any number of "commercial" brewers a run for their money!

Apologies to John for being so tardy with posting this!


Red Hand Brewery: An update

I took my fiance and in-laws along for lunch in the Brewer's House yesterday. Owner Ciaran walked through the door and offered to show me the newly arrived brewkit. Its a 100 litre setup and so new its yet to be wired in. It'll be located in a (yet to be) converted stables and there will be a weekly brew to supply both pubs. 

Initially trial batches will be brewed and given away to get feedback from regular pub customers. In the long run the 100litre kit could serve as a trial plant fora bigger setup or allow for limited edition releases to be brewed.
Conditioning tank

The pub itself is going from strength to strength, and was featured on national news last week, the phone hasn't stopped ringing ever since. People from all over the island of Ireland are coming to eat and drink here and its certainly putting the tiny village of Donaghmore on the map.

According to Ciaran, of 18 people on his brewing course, 6 have bought the same kit; so we could see a spate of similar start-ups in the coming months. I for one am certainly keeping my fingers crossed.


Session #69: Beery Pipe Dreams

This month's session requires a bit of thought. What would I change to make the beer world a better place and how would I bring it about?

The obvious answer would be for beer to be free; therefore cost not having to factor into people's decisions whether they should have a beer or not. And a method of delivery...how about the health benefits are recognised and its available as a free prescription on the NHS (yes I know that we pay taxes that pay for the NHS, which means it wouldn't actually be free but it would seem like it...)

The realist in me knows this is never going to happen, perhaps a more achievable goal, one that would benefit everyone would be to convince more people to try beer, either for the first time or something more flavourful than the mass produced convenience beers*. How should we go about doing this? Blogging is a part of it but for the most part that's only preaching to the converted (to use a well worn cliché). What you have to do is "step-out" of your comfort zone, get out into the real world and share beers with the unconverted. Leigh has done a great round-up on his blog.

So your challenge for the end of 2012 (or 2013 if you think that's more realistic) is to get out into those pubs and bars and get talking to people about beer. It doesn't have to be a specially organised, ticketed event but just do something, other than sticking to your usual group of friends or sitting at home blogging. If you already do something to step-out of your comfort zone then let us know in the comments below.

The session this month was brought to you by Jorge from Brew Beer and Drink it

*Thanks World Beer Atlas