Cooking & Drinking With The Craft Union

 
“Nothing quenches the thirst like a Wheat Beer, or sharpens the appetite like an India Pale Ale. Nothing goes as well with seafood as a Dry Porter or Stout, or accompanies chocolate like an Imperial Stout. Nothing soothes like a Barley Wine.”
 
Legendary beer writer, Michael Jackson’s extract from ‘The Beer Hunter’ is a simple introduction to the world of food and beer pairing and although this dining concept is new to many, it has been gaining some ground over the last few years. And, when you think about it, matching food with beer makes sense; unlike beer, it can be difficult to get wine to match distinctive flavours. Worse still, spice laden dishes can distort delicate wine flavours whereas beers are often more robust and can stand up to caramelised, roasted and sweet flavours as well as tart, sharp flavours.
 
On a local level, regular readers will remember that Exposed’s beer and food bloggers recently joined forces to attend the launch of the Craft Union book. Focussing on beer and food pairings this book is the culmination of the fruitful partnership of Thornbridge Brewery and Sheffield chef Richard Smith, it holds itself out as the perfect gift for anyone with an interest in craft beer and cooking.
 
The book kicks off with a perfectly palatable history of Thornbridge Brewery as award-winning and Barnsley born beer writer, Pete Brown, tells readers of his first trip to Thornbridge Hall for his first taste of the liquid stuff. For those wanting to soak up a little of the history of the brewery, there is another chapter detailing its growth from starting out in 2004 (when the late Dave Wickett rebuffed business partners Jim Harrison and Simon Webster for daring to ask another to brew a beer for them, and not taking the task on themselves), to 2012 where the brewery finds that 25% of its beer is exported worldwide! Turning to the food side of things and one chapter is dedicated to Brew Kitchen; the Sheffield based restaurant group set up by directors of Richard Smith’s Smiths of Sheffield and Thornbridge Brewery.
 
But its Master Brewer Alex Barlow’s guide to matching that really whets the appetite. In fact this chapter is a useful ‘go to’ reference for anyone wanting a pint with their dinner. Alex’s guide takes the reader through a few different beer styles giving a little history to the beer, a description of the flavours and a selection of foods to serve up with it. There are a few intriguing matches that may be worth trying out; a lager with cottage cheese, a porter with oysters and a dark lager with salmons.
 
The advice is based on some simple guidelines; Cleanse, Complement, Coordinate and Contrast. Beers can cleanse and refresh the palate between each mouthful, can complement the flavours of a dish or provide contrasting flavours (for instance a light, crisp lager would work well with a sticky toffee pudding). On a more basic level beers can be coordinated with the dishes; richer flavours often need fuller bodied beers and lighter flavours need lighter beers.
 
Wanting to put the book to the test myself and Jules decided to hold a beer and food evening of our own; I was on cooking duties and Jules on beer partnership selections. With one of our diners being allergic to seafood and thanks to the lack of barbecue weather we concentrated on the recipes inspired by the brewery’s garden and kicked off with a starter broad bean, pea, mint and feta salad. 
 

 
Jules paired the dish with the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (5.6 per cent). With its crisp bitterness it cut through the salty feta of the salad. A high carbonation level acted as an exfoliant for the cheese and provided a refreshing and dry beginning to the meal whilst the Cascade hops used in the brew added a fragrant bouquet coordinating well with the more delicate flavours in the salad.
 
On to the mains and I just couldn’t resist the wild boar and borlotti bean stew. Although it took a few hours to prepare, the end result was totally worth it and it was a meal in itself thanks to the inclusion of potatoes and veg. Chorizo and paprika added gorgeous warming flavours to the meat and although the book suggests that rare breed pork can be used instead of wild boar, the gamey meat (sourced from Round Green Farm) was flavoursome and incredibly tender after cooking for so long. The only point to make about this recipe is that it serves 8-10 people rather than the 4 that the book suggests.
 
Jules picked up on the distinctive gamey flavours of the stew and chose a full flavoured, full-bodied dark beer to compliment them. Being unable to source the suggested beers from the book she went for the Thornbridge Thorny Goat (6 per cent) which is a Mocha Porter. With its roasted malt aroma, hints of coffee beans and dark chocolate it partnered the stew enjoyably.
 
For dessert I went for the sticky toffee pudding. Sadly, I didn't fully read the recipe, not spotting that there was going to be a distinct lack of a toffee sauce until it was too late. Thankfully the pudding was amply tasty and the richly sweet flavours came through. Jules chose Kill Your Darlings (5%), a Vienna style lager from Thornbridge and Durham Brewery’s Magus Light Bitter (3.8%) to allow for a contrast to the sticky toffee pudding. Both beers were relatively lower in alcohol than the previous beer matches and their subtle flavours both refreshed and cleansed the taste buds.
 

 
After enjoying the Eccles cakes and Lancashire cheese combination a few times in the past, I just had to slip this in as an extra course! Using ready-made puff pastry kept the preparation relatively simple, although the dried fruit filling did need to be marinated overnight. Forming the cakes themselves was actually a lot easier than I’d previously feared and the end result was pretty respectable. The saltiness of the cheese went well with the fruity filling, as did Jules’s Belgian Trappist beer Westmalle 10 (9 per cent) with its sweet roasted notes and intense alcoholic glow. It was a perfect combination. 
 
It turns out that Jules also has a love of cheese and she asked Reece from Urban Deli in Crookes to help her source a cheeseboard of Yorkshire Blue, Fine Fettle, Cropwell Bishop Stilton and Barncliffe Brie. Jules had also made her own Mary Berry and Craft Union chutneys which added another welcome dimension. Both were extremely easy to make, though she would recommend maturing chutney for at least a month (in a cool dark place) before eating, to round the flavours.
 
With such a variety of flavours to play with, Jules was able to be a bit more experimental with the beer pairings and she brought her own homebrewed honey porter, Amarcord Brewery AMA Bionda from Italy, Brooklyn Local 1 (a Belgian inspired strong golden ale) and Sam Smith’s apricot beer to the table. They each added varying delights to the creamy cheeses and it was great to try a few different beer and sweet/savoury combinations.
 

 
The evening was an absolute success, both in terms of the beer and the food and it was all easily achievable. People often talk about beer being approachable and ‘for the people’ and this book really lives by that ethos. There’s a lot of home cooking in there and with recipes for shepherd’s pie, fish and chips and burgers the book works at making sure that beer and food pairing can be a little every day luxury. And for those of you who do like to push the boat out a bit there’s recipes for seafood vongole with clams, scallops, crab and rockfish, or spicy avocado and local Colchester crab salad to tempt you.
 
Are you a beer and food convert? Have you been tempted away from the grape? What is your favourite drink to have with dinner? 
 
Clare's Food Blog is sponsored by Nonnas Cucina. Get 50% off Nonnas Pizza every Wednesday when you quote Exposed!  Visit the Nonnas website for more. 
 




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