Thornbridge Beer and Food Evening

Bread and wine. It's a historical combination and one that plays a huge part in our culinary lives. Bucks Fizz with breakfast, a cheeky spritz with lunch and a full bodied red with dinner; we could drink wine at any time of the day. Of course most of us don't actually follow this wine fuelled diet, but there are certain occasions that demand wine. A lunch with friends, a Sunday dinner with family or a romantic meal with the other half; unless there's a glass of wine in our hand, the meal just doesn't feel complete.
Times are a changin' though and breweries, faced with declining sales and stiff competition from the wine market, have noticed that people are eating out more and what better way to boost sales than to show diners how they can enjoy a good ol’ pint with their gastro-pub meals? Of course drinking beer with your meal is hardly a new concept (after all it’s the most obvious choice when eating a curry or a burger), but what about pairing beer with a delicate fish dish, a salad or even a pudding?
Well, with the huge variety of beer we have in the UK (not to mention the vast array available across Europe and in the US) it stands to reason that there must be a beer fit for every dish. With beer priced significantly lower than wine and with it being naturally lower in alcohol it actually makes sense for us to drink more beer. It’s also a great way to support local businesses and here in Sheffield we have a good number of independent breweries such as Bradfield, Kelham Island and Abbeydale Breweries to name but a few.

On a national level this culinary pairing has been bubbling away and now it’s not uncommon to find Michelin star restaurants playing around with the concept. For instance The Quilon's chef, Sriram Aylur, offers a beer and food menu with mouth-watering pairings such as griddled marinated chicken with ground coconut, chilli and cumin partnered with Brewster’s Pale Ale. Sheffield is starting to catch up and is starting to think outside the (wine) box. The York has held beer and food dinners and we hear that the Devonshire Cat likes to offer diners matching beers with their menu. Going one step further is The Cellar Door at The Beauchief who lists matching beers with each of their dishes.
This is hardly surprising as The Beauchief is a Brew Kitchen restaurant that has a close working relationship with Thornbridge out in Bakewell. So close that they've joined forces to write a book dedicated to the art of pairing food with beer; Craft Union. On hearing that Thornbridge were hosting a beer and food night in honour of their new publication Exposed thought it would be a good idea to send their food and beer bloggers along for the ride…
Growing up in the North East, Beer Blogger Jules, doesn’t feel that a traditional Sunday dinner would be right without a glass of beer. One of her fondest memories was the anticipation of meeting family friends at their monthly outing to the local pub where she'd be allowed to have her roast with a bitter shandy. It was 99% lemonade and 1% Cameron's bitter, but that 1% really tasted good. Jules’s love of beer developed over the years and she’s never been a wine drinker, Indeed, whenever she has drunk it (mainly to please friends who want to club together to buy a bottle) she'd be glancing over to the hand pulls on the bar picking out the beer she would have partnered with my conversation. As a strong supporter of British produce, she’s excited by Britain’s profound heritage of brewing beer, and seeing this being drawn upon by today's crop of brewers such as Magic Rock in Huddersfield or The Kernel brewery in London. In her words ‘Why wouldn't you naturally choose to pair a British made beer with your food?’
On the other hand, Food Blogger Clare is a true foodie who enjoys and appreciates a good glass of wine or a well-made cocktail. In fact you’ll often find her propping up the bar at her local, chatting booze with the bartenders as they make her a dry and dirty gin martini or pour her an Australian Riesling. And although she does like the odd pint, she generally only drinks beer when she's out for a quick one, or sat in the beer garden (and both are pretty rare occurrences to be honest), so she was looking forward to the night and wondering whether they could actually convince her that beer was a good alternative to the wine she usually likes to drink with her meal.
The evening started with a few introductions and a bit of beer chat. Hosts Thornbridge Brewery are based in Bakewell and has become renowned over the last few years thanks to their international beer awards endorsing their reputation for great beers. The Craft Union Book adds another bow to their beer armoury highlighting their natural progression and the overall traction that matching food and beer has garnered in the UK. Thornbridge first began brewing from a 10 barrel plant in 2005, initially focusing on cask beers and traditional recipes. They now operate two brewery sites keeping the original smaller Thornbridge Hall site open to experiment with ingredients and barrel-aging. Look out for collaboration beer ‘Twin Peaks’ from Thornbridge and Sierra Nevada dropping soon, an Anglo American Pale Ale 5% abv.

Esteemed guest Sierra Nevada Brewery is a celebrated US craft brewery and beer taste maker. Their Sierra Nevada Pale Ale appears in many a Top 10 beer list and has done so since its first brew in 1980, up to the present day. Steve Grossman told us how his younger brother Ken started the brewery in 1979 and his first foray into business; a homebrew shop in Chico North California. Listening to Steve’s stories, his passion for beer was both charming and insightful and his tales of custom building brewery kit in the late seventies out of rural dairy farmers’ scrap stainless steel tanks were simply awe inspiring!

Pete Brown, a beer drinker's beer writer, also attended. Born in Barnsley he was the perfect choice to author the introduction to the Craft Union book. Pete's encyclopaedic knowledge of beer (culture and brewing) combined with his storytelling flair managed to intertwine the craft UK and US scenes to unify the night. His honest affable beer digressions were entertaining and his ever growing readership is testament to this. Now onto his fourth book, ‘Shakespeare’s Local’, a history of one very special public house that has stood the test of time (six centuries!) and acts as a true example of the ‘primordial cell of British life’, in Pete’s own words.  
Speeches over, it was the time we’d all been waiting for; dinner time. 'Table beer' of Feallan, a Marzen lager and Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale had kept us entertained throughout the speeches but the first course of Crab Cakes 'Garrett', so called because the recipe came from Garrett of Brooklyn Brewery, brought a few smiles to the table. It meant that we could crack on with the serious business of beer and food pairing. A rather substantial flat patty was packed full of delicious crab meat which was lightly spiced with flavours of lime, coriander and a hint of curry spicing. Jaipur, a 5.9% India Pale Ale, was the beer of choice. A favourite amongst Sheffielders, it has been widely recognised in numerous beer awards from the UK and internationally including The Guild of Fine Food who listed the India Pale Ale in its top 50 ‘Great Taste’ list for 2012. In the Craft Union introduction guide the well respected Master Brewer, Alex Barlow, highlights that ‘selecting beers with characteristics similar to those in the food ensure a harmony and blending of flavours’ and the lime in the crab cakes was most definitely complimented by the citrusy notes from Jaipur’s hops.

Onto mains of Thornbridge Steak and Ale Pie with Mushy Peas and Dripping Roast Potatoes; a dish that almost demands a beer to be paired with it, almost as much as a burger or a curry. But what a beer! Sierra Nevada ‘Northern Hemisphere Harvest’ at 6.7% abv is not seen much around these parts. It's a wet hop beer, meaning that hops make it from field to kettle within 24 hours. A really refreshing and thirst quenching flavour with earthy tones which coordinated agreeably with the meaty pie.
The first of two desserts was Treacle Tart with clotted cream. Light in colour, this was heavy in caramel and toffee flavours. The beer, Sierra Nevada ‘Narwhal’, was a dark and rich Imperial stout. At 10.2% ABV it was heavy on alcohol as well as body. Narwhal is from Sierra’s ‘High Altitude’ series emphasising big intense uncompromising flavours with its liquorice notes contrasting the unreservedly sweet treacle. The velvety smooth body of the stout helped wash down the sticky dessert and built an intense warm roasted glow to the evening.

Dinner was then rounded off with an Affogato, but with Thornbridge Heather Honey Stout substituting the espresso, this was a very British Affogato. Created by Pete Brown (who admits himself that this is a bit of a cop out in terms of putting recipes together!) the combination of beer and vanilla ice cream may sound like a strange one to some, but the ice cream provided the perfect base for the flavours of the beer; it accentuated the flavours without distorting them. Liquorice, coffee and chocolate flavours came through fast and furious and we think that the British Affogato could give the Italians a run for their money!

Although beer novice Clare wasn't overly convinced by a couple of the pairings, mainly because the Narwhal and Northern Hemisphere Harvest were such challenging beers for a newbie, she is now eager to try more beer and work out what flavour combinations she likes. Of course beer lover Jules revelled in the challenging hop heavy beers on offer; from Jaipur through to Hemisphere and to Narwhal. However the Feallan ‘table’ beer provided at times a refreshing change due to its milder balanced nature and for some courses provided a platform for the food to shine rather than the beer.             
With a copy of Craft Union each there will be more food and beer pairing to come and next on the agenda is a full on feast of dishes from the book with their suggested pairings. Look out for the blogpost which will follow shortly. In the meantime you might be interested in a new beer class that is starting up at The Cellar Door from 4 March. Follow them on Twitter for more information.
Clare's Food Blog is sponsored by Nonnas Cucina. Get 50% off Nonnas Pizza every Wednesday when you quote Exposed! Open Sunday to Friday 5-7pm.

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