Hardknott Rhetoric Crème Brûlée

Hardknott Rhetoric Ed.1 Crème BrûléeCrème brûlée really isn’t at all difficult to make and it an excellent dessert to produce in bulk to impress people on special occasions. It also gives a great excuse to have a blowtorch in the kitchen.

This particularly rich crème brûlée is inspired by a trip to Musa Aberdeen back around the first BrewDog AGM. Kat had a Paradox Smokehead crème brûlée and has been talking about it ever since… our supply of Smokehead ran out long ago, so I set about putting together a version using a complex & tasty beer from Hardknott instead. Hardknott Rhetoric Ed.1 is described as “Star Anise Infused Quasi-Bombastic Belgique Quad” which hit me as a pretty good flavour element to add to the custard — anise spice combined with boozy Belgian body.


  • 300ml double cream (1 typical supermarket pot)
  • 100ml Hardknott Rhetoric Ed.1 (leaving plenty to enjoy while cooking)
  • 40g golden caster (plus a little more for later)
  • 4 good free-range eggs – yolks only


The tricky part of producing a crème brûlée is cooking it right. I suggest pre-preparing for the baking first.  You need to pre-heat your oven to 160C (gas mark 3, 325F) and have ramekins, or similar, ready for filling.  This recipe makes about 450ml of liquid and you should fill your ramekins close to their tops.  They should be baked in a hot water bath coming up about 2 thirds of their height.  To this end choose an appropriately deep oven dish to bake them in, preferably such that the rim of the oven dish is higher than that of the ramekins.  This allows you to place a baking tray over the top to keep the tops of the custards moist so they don’t brown.  Have a kettle full of water boiled and waiting.

In a small saucepan mix together the double cream and beer and then heat until just barely simmering

While the cream and beer mixture is heating beat the yolks and caster sugar together until thick and creamy.  Easiest to use an electric mixer for this.

When the double cream and beer is heated carefully whisk into the egg mixture. Don’t whisk too vigorously as then you’ll end up with a lot of foam. Once done let sit for half a minute then, using a large metal spoon, carefully skim off any foam (chef’s perk!)

Place ramekins into their baking dish and fill with the custard mixture, preferably to quite close to their rims. Then fill the dish with freshly boiled water to about 2 thirds up the height of the ramekins.  Place them in the oven, covering the baking dish with a flat pan but leaving a crack open at one edge to let excess steam escape.

Freshly Baked CustardsThese should need about 30 minutes in the oven, perhaps a little more.  When they’re done they should still be quite wobbly in the middle but not runny.  They seemed to have “fizzed” a little during cooking as the top surface was bubbly, not surprising given the light carbonation in the beer.  This didn’t seem to do them any damage however, but I’d not want to try it with a particularly fizzy beer.

Cool for a minute on a wire rack then get them into the fridge.  They should be in the fridge for at least a couple of hours before serving and are fine prepared a day in advance.

Torch It!When the time to serve them comes sprinkle with golden caster sugar until well coated.  Tip off excess sugar then evenly sprinkle over a little more.  Wipe clean the rims of the ramekins and make use of a blowtorch to brown the sugar thoroughly, don’t be afraid of a little smoke — but don’t overdo it!  This can also be done under a hot overhead grill.

Serve with a glass of Rhetoric Ed.1!

Hardknott Rhetoric Ed.1 Crème Brûlée

I made just two crème brûlées with this recipe.  Thoroughly decadent!  Larger custards also increases the baking time, to about 40 minutes.  I recommend using four smaller ramekins, about 120ml in size.  If you make 4 then you’re looking at something approaching 500 Calories each.  This is a very rich dessert, you have been warned…

Cake: Honey, Spice & Hardknott Vitesse Noir

Honey, Spice, & Hardknott Vitesse Noir cakeTo celebrate the approval of our UK ILR (permanent residence) I decided to make a particularly rich “celebration cake”. I devised a recipe derived from one for Polish Piernik… it worked rather well I think.


  • 1 cup (250ml) chestnut honey (or other dark rich honey)
  • 225g unsalted butter (leaving some from a 250g block for tin–greasing)
  • 1 teaspoon (15ml) cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon (15ml) ginger powder
  • 1 teaspoon (15ml) allspice
  • 1 cup (250ml) Hardknott Vitesse Noir (or alternative super–rich ale)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 250ml packed dark muscovado sugar
  • 3 teaspoons (45ml) baking powder
  • 1 cup (1000ml) plain white flour

Hardknott Vitesse Noir, Butter, Honey, Eggs, Baking Powder, Ground Ginger, Ground Allspice, Ground Cinamon, Muscovado Sugar, Plain FlourMethod

Life, I find, is easier if you measure out all your ingredients in advance. This also means that you can pour 80ml of Vitesse Noir into a glass to enjoy while you prepare the cake!

Thoroughly beating the eggs, muscovado sugar, and baking powder.Put the chestnut honey, butter, and spices into a small (~1 litre) saucepan. Heat until all liquid and foaming — be careful, this will overboil and make a terrible mess if you’re not watchful.

Take the hot liquid off the stove and mix in the beer, then wait until the liquid is cool enough to dip your finger in (careful!)

Preheat oven to 180°C (gas mark 4, 350°F) and prepare a thoroughly greased large ring tin (or a couple of loaf tins). You may want to do this earlier if your oven is slow to heat.

In a large bowl use an electric mixer to thoroughly beat the eggs and muscovado sugar together util thick and creamy. Mix in the baking powder and then using a lower speed (or hand whisk) gradually work in the warm honey & butter mixture.

Sift the flour in in 4 or 5 batches, folding into the batter with a large spoon.

Carefully fill your cake tin with the batter and pop into the oven as soon as possible.

The cake should take about 45 minutes to bake — use the good old skewer test to check.

Present with a dusting of icing sugar and a glass of Vitesse Noir.

Rich, not overly moist, very tasty - luxurious aroma. Great with a cup of tea or coffee in the morning... or a glass of Hardknott Vitesse Noir later on.


I’ve used Vitesse Noir in celebration of our permanent residence as I wanted to use (and drink) a great beer from one of my favourite UK breweries. You could use any one of thousands of other great “imperial” (strong & rich) ales if you don’t have this one handy. I’d like to try the recipe again with a distinctively barrel aged beer, especially whisky or rum.

I can’t comment on how much of a contribution the beer makes to the flavour as I don’t have a “control” (version without the beer) — there is a chance given the richness of the honey and sugar that it could be minimal. Another experiment I want to try again is the same recipe but with light honey, light muscovado, and no spice.

But there is only so much cake I can bake! Would be great to hear of anyone else’s attempts at this.

#OpenTheRhetoric – Twitter & Beer Geerkey

@HardknottDave is a beer geek who also happens to be a brewer of some quite awesome beers. As with many small breweries the geekery doesn’t stop at the beer – Twitter[1] seems to have become a bit of a beer community phenomenon. I can keep tabs on the majority of the interesting UK beer scene by following a small knot of the UK beer hardcore, a collection of both brewers and drinkers. This is an incredibly useful research tool, the topic of research being “what beer should I buy/drink next?” Weighty and important stuff.

Omega Centauri

Omega Centauri - European Southern Observatory (ESO)

This Twitter “miniverse” is a loose-knit network of like-minded folk. If I were to visualise it it would be sort of like Omega Centauri. A dense highly connected core in the middle, folk constantly chatting about beer at a personal level. Here we find the @HardknottDaves (brewer), @MellissaColes (beer evangelist), @BeerReviewsAndys (beer blogger & beery IT), and @simonhjohnsons (enthusiastic drinker?) of the scene. These people generate the constant core thread of UK beer talk. As you get out towards the edges you pass through a dense zone of popular but less personally involved entities – accounts acting under the persona of a brewery/retailer/organisation – followed by many but interacting with few or none. Some, more centrally, take on a persona and interact 1:1 with many followers – such as @BrewDog – but have the kind of tinny hollow impersonal feeling of marketing. Others really are just one-way-spews of marketing announcements – though nevertheless of some interest. Finally as you gradually move out to the darkness of empty space you pass by the wider community of people who simply like beer and have the occasional interaction with the core. These folk dip in and out the the thread, a reply here and there, a retweet from time to time. Maybe once, maybe a couple of times a day.

This interesting and diverse community has given rise to a new class of “distributed event” – such as Twitter beer tastings. I’ve seen it done a few times, sometimes based around a whole selection of beers sold in a box for a Twitter “beer festival”, others a varied set of beers for a Twitter/blogger #OpenIt event. There are always a lot of interesting beers being consumed out there!

All this is beside the point in the title: #OpenTheRhetoric – a Twitter event for a Hardknott brewery special release. Rhetoric Ed.I – the first in a series of special beery one-offs by the brewery. This beer is described as “Star Anise Infused Quasi-Bombastic Belgique Quad” – if that doesn’t raise an eyebrow & pique your interest then you’re dead inside. An empty shell I tell you. Dave, Ann, and Alex at Hardknott distributed a small selection of Rhetoric to various beer bloggers and geeks prior to the official release, the beer wasn’t quite ready at the time (needed a little more bottle conditioning time) and we had to promise to not open it until the Hardknott beer-signal had been issued. I was lucky enough to get my mitts on a bottle when passing by the brewery to drop off empties from the Hitchin beer festival.

This sort of “one off” beer series isn’t a new idea. You could say it goes back a very long way in some respects – in the “old days” of brewing many beer batches would have been different from time to time, season to season. I can picture ye olde beerwives tossing something interesting into the brew, some warm spices in Christmas perhaps, a dead rat for a favoured cousin – then again I may be over-romanticising the past. Anyway, In more recent times real ale breweries in the UK often have a slot for a rotating “brewer playing around a little ale” (usually very conservative “playing”), sometimes such a brew works so well it becomes a permanent offering. Regardless of the format, releasing such varied beers is a great idea and an excellent service to those beer geeks like myself who’re more interested in change & difference than the tried and true & old and reliable. BrewDog are well known for this sort of thing in the form of their Abstrakt brand – so far I’ve religiously bought a few of every release (and still have at least 2 bottles of all of them). I’ve also recently noticed Arbor Ales doing a similar thing called “Freestyle Friday” – the 2012 Black IPA was particularly tasty, though a little over my bitterness threshold!

It especially tickles my interest when the beers are strong and have cellaring potential – full of hope we buy them and put them somewhere stable and once a year, say, we pop one open and enjoy the liquor within while radiating a self-satisfied smugness. Sometimes after a couple of years these beers taste like shoe polish & vinegar – with a small sob in remembrance of better times they’re interred in the u-bend of the sink.

Back to the beer that is, sadly, no longer at hand! You can read the original Rhetoric rhetoric here on Dave’s blog and you can read another blogger’s notes on the beer & event too. There are also, of course, a fair few comments lingering on Twitter, though they’ll vapourise in a short time. I see one RateBeer ticker got hold of it as well – it is also on Untappd thanks to myself.

I sampled Rhetoric Ed.I with about 8 other people, so I only had a few sips. It was also at the tail end of a day-long house-warming party. Thus I’m not going to offer any detailed thoughts on tasting notes and not make any attempt to give it any “rating” – I suspect we’re talking a 4, but maybe a 5, on Untappd from me. The aniseed was distinct, surely, but it wasn’t sickly & medicinal, Rhetoric came across as definitely beer not an alcopop oddity. I enjoyed the beer immensely – pleasingly everyone else who had a little enjoyed it too (to varying degrees). This includes a couple of folk who really aren’t keen on aniseed flavours at all, and another who really isn’t keen on beer full-stop. He also enjoyed the Hardknott Colonial Mayhem – there seems to be some strong beery evangelism built into Hardknott beer and I expect the conversions haven’t stopped at Hardknott Ann.

I’ll be buying some bottles of Rhetoric Ed.I – and so can you, while stocks last, just follow this link to the Hardknott shop!

[1] I’m not sure if there is any sort of similar projection of the community into Facebook – I don’t touch Facebook because it isn’t open, it isn’t friendly, it “farms” users much like dodgy food industries farm battery hens. I suspect Twitter may simply work better for the beer community due to its simplicity and openness.

The English Experiment

On dropping off some empty firkins at Hardknott brewery just before the Jubilee weekend I was lucky enough to be handed a bottle of a new beer by @HardknottSarah – it was “The English Experiment“. This beer is the result of the rumoured collaboration between @HardknottDave & @FullersJohn – do go and read Dave’s blog post about it, and definitely watch the accompanying video!

We intended to give it a try during the long weekend, which we spent tramping over hills in Galloway Forest Park. So I lugged this bottle of beer up into the hills with me – so an idea was born, how about I take a photo of the beer on top of every Donald we ascend? Yeah, it’s a bit daft – but it’s the sort of thing I do for a laugh.

It also seems quite appropriate that we started out near Bruce’s Stone above Loch Trool – the site of a battle where Robert the Bruce humiliated the English (so I read). So here’s a bit of England coming back conquer in these hills… well, sort of!

So, here is The English Experiment – Scottish hill walking beer – a photo log.

Day 1: The Dungeon Range

The English Experiment atop Craignaw - 645m - a Graham & Donald

The English Experiment atop Dungeon Hill - 620m - a Donald - next destination, Mullwharchar, in the background

The English Experiment atop Mullwharchar - 692m - a Graham & Donald - in the distance: Loch Macaterick to the left, Loch Doon to the right

 Day 2: Range of the Awful Hand

The English Experiment atop Merrick, the highest Donald of them all - 843m - a Corbet & Donald

The English Experiment atop Kirriereoch Hill - 786m - a Donald

The English Experiment atop Tarfessock - 697m - a Donald

The English Experiment atop Shalloch on Minnoch - 768m - a Corbett & Donald - this is not the actual top, that's the cairn at 775m but I didn't realise at the time and didn't take a photo there!

 Day 3: Rhinns of The Kells

The English Experiment atop Coran of Portmark - 623m - a Donald

The English Experiment atop Meaul - 695m - a Donald

The English Experiment atop Carlin's Cairn - 807m - a Donald - looking SW towards Merrick with Loch Enoch below

The English Experiment atop Corserine - 814m - a Corbett & Donald - our last hill of the trip

So, that’s 11 Donalds! Not bad for a weekend – and they include 3 Corbetts and 2 Grahams as well. A few more hills bagged… no, I’m not a hill bagger really, but I feel I could become one. We walked around 70km in 2.5 days, punctuated by a couple of wild camps. One idyllic, beside Loch Enoch – though it was a windy night. The other midge infested (thankfully we have a good tent) near Loch Doon.

The Beer

Well, we never did get around to drinking it during the walk. It never really felt quite the right time. However, when we got home we made a point of sitting down and letting our taste-buds become acquainted with this beer. I believes it achieves its aim, it is an essentially English rendition of what most of us now think of as an “IPA” (after the US style) and the new hops do seem to add a twist of the different. (Recall I’m an Aussie, and here I am talking about “essentially English” – hah, YMMV!) Great to see work being done on developing local hop varieties, in this case by Charles Faram. I think these hops must come through with earthier and more dark-fruit tones, more alike to traditional English hop flavours – with less of the zing, citrus, and tropical fruit of new world hops. I look forward to seeing more of Landlady, Bishop, Archer, and Baron and can’t wait for someone to present them in single-hop format.  All in all, The English Experiment was a highly enjoyable beer, of a style akin to the Durham Brewery Bombay 106 IPA, rather than the likes of BrewDog’s Punk – we’ll be ordering ourselves a few more bottles from the Hardknott shop shortly!

What you want to do is get yourself to the official release at The Rake in London early in the evening of Monday June 11th – The English Experiment will be available in cask! Hope I can get there myself! (Might be a bit difficult alas.) Failing that, order some of this great beer online.

We did get to drink one beer during our walk at least – the other bottle I was lugging with me was a Hardknott Code Black. Another excellent beer. Now, if only Hardknott put some of their beer in cans so once the beer is drunk the remaining pack weight is much less!

Camp near Loch Doon - real fire, necessary to keep the midges at bay!

Hardknott Granite, ’09 vs ’10

I’ve been building up a backlog of beer for long enough now that I can compare the same beer (by name) brewed a year or two apart. I get an odd sort of geeky pleasure out of doing this, especially when there is an appreciable difference between the beers.

This evening I cracked open two bottles of HardKnott Granite, the 2009 (bottle 196 of 504) and the 2010 (bottle 332 of 804). The bottle describes this beer as a “barley wine style beer for geological time scale aging” with an added blurb “Hide it away in your deepest darkets cellar to avoid temptation to consume before its best. Enjoy with warm enligntened company, in a temperate climate sometime before the next ice age. Savour with cheese and dark chocolate.” OK, so perhaps I’ve given in to temptation early, but unfortunately I don’t have a cellar – let alone a deepest darkest cellar (I so wish I did!)

When I first tried the 2009 a year or so ago I described it as smoky, I recall using one of my favourite phrases: “sausage beer”. A lot has happened since then. I’ve met Dave Bailey, the brewer behind HardKnot, a couple of times (or so) and even bought firkins of his more tame (but very good) beers for our local Hitchin beer festival. When I went to return the empties back in April my timing was rather good… just in time to buy a mixed box of Granite and Aether Blaec 2010! I’ve had one or two bottles of all of these but this is the first pair I’ve put head-to-head. So, transcribing straight from my notes here’s how they compared:

Granite '09 vs Granite '10

Granite 2009 Granite 2010
ABV 10.4% 10.1%
“Best Before” (or after?;) 10/02/15 14/02/16
Description on bottle This beer was created using Natural Lake District water extracted from volcanic rock. The heat of our copper drove the malt sugars to twice the concentration producing a burnt toffee flavour. This beer was created using water extracted from the ancient geology of Cumbria. The head of our copper drove the malt sugars to high concentration producing rich toffee flavours.
Cap Metallic Red Red
Opening Sharp, strong “psst”. Slow gathering of bubbles around edge of neck. Light “psst”. No visible bubbling.
Pour Tight cream head builds quickly. Foam holds, takes 2+ minutes to dissipate. Loose cream head. Dissipates rapidly.
Aroma Hint of summer bushfire after rain, with a burnt car tyre or two. Medicinal disinfectant note as of hospital ward. Fruity, boozy nose. Smells sweet. Hint of coffee.
Swirl Head re-builds easily, retention as before. Amost no head re-forms.
Enjoyed at 12°C 12°C
  • At first creamy texture fills the mouth, possibly a little too much condition.
  • Then the burnt notes hit the taste buds and insinuate themselves up the nostrils from behind.
  • There is a nostalgic memory of bushfire season.
  • A medicinal/disinfectant note makes itself apparent, a bit on the unpleasant side.
  • This is accompanied by black pepper and juniper berry notes, perhaps the disinfectant note is pine?
  • The beer begins to take on a resinous feel in the mouth, with a gentle warming at the back.
  • Slowly a sour-cherry edge appears, develops, and becomes one of the dominant dimensions.
  • Feel is heavy, sweet, syrupy.
  • Flavour hits as rich spiced fruit pudding.
  • Loads of date, raisin, and a hit of cherry; perhaps even the ghost of a squeeze of lemon.
  • Sherry, now fruitcake becomes rich Christmas pudding that has been fed sherry for as year.
  • A hint of melon jumps up and down for attention in peripheral vision.
  • Warm notes build, warm spices.
  • Now it goes through a cough-syrup phase, too much all at once.
  • This dies quickly leaving just warmth, building warmth.
  • I’m left with a lingering heat down going all the way down my throat.
  • A ghost of chilli and pine resin.
  • Working through the glass the medicinal notes become less present and the warmth and spice builds.
  • The hint of disinfectant never leaves though, but it is a ghost of a hint.
  • The body holds well, the beer feels great in the mouth until the last sip.
  • This beer stays big and bold all the way through the glass. It’s like drinking a magical warming elixir.
  • The mouthfeel becomes a bit heavy half way through. At this point the beer is pretty much dead flat.
  • Despite this the final mouthful leaves me wanting more, there is a suffusion of wellbeing.
Verdict This 2009 was not as good as I recall. I’m certain the beer has changed with age, though not for better or worse. I know I thought of it as a “sausage beer” (smoky) but this is certainly not how I’d describe it now. The actual smoky notes have gone to be replaced by burnt (post-smoke) flavours. The piney disinfectant flavour is a new one I think, or is given more prominence perhaps. I like piney flavours though so this doesn’t matter much. The sour note really is new I think, and I guess it comes with age – I wasn’t too keen on it. The 2010 was a surprise. I have pre-conceived ideas based on the 2009, and while I’d tried the 2010 on its own already I didn’t realise it was so different compared to the 2009 (as drunk a year ago.) The only thing lacking was a bit of extra mouthfeel that would come from extra condition. Possibly the 2009 is over-conditioned (Dave himself said he thinks as much) but I’d personally prefer to see the over-condition of the 2009 in the 2010 than the near-flat beer I drank tonight. Then again, this is described as a barley-wine and I’ve never had a fizzy barleywine! It’s also over 10% ABV and could very easily replace the entirely un-fizzy dessert wine you might normally find accompanying a cheese platter. I’d say the blurb on the bottle is quite on-target when it suggest savouring the beer within with cheese.

I guess I have to come to some sort of conclusion now. The 2010 is the better of the two, and while I’d like a little extra fizz in it I think that the massive flavour in the beer moves it into a territory where lighter texture isn’t too important. (I do believe I actually told Dave that I preferred the 2009 at some point, I stand self-corrected!) Keep in mind that these beers are 10% ABV, you want to sip them like a cognac or fine dessert wine. The 2009 is still a great bottle of beer, despite loosing out to its younger sibling. However I’m not certain age as treated it well, thus far, I remember more smoke and more malty toffee notes (but perhaps age is not treating my memory so well?) I have another bottle, or maybe two, so perhaps I’ll see what it’s like in a year… or five!

I do recommend getting hold of some HardKnott beers. I think they’re amongst the best examples of bottle-conditioned “real ales” you can come across. Secondary fermentation is what gives all Dave’s beers their essential fizz yet you won’t find a huge puck of yeast at the bottom of the bottle. Too many micros in the UK either don’t bother with bottle conditioning or they whack a huge load of yeast into the bottle and make it very difficult to pour clear. I find, in my circles, that “real ale in a bottle” has a bit of a bad reputation as a result (it’s either not real and too fizzy, or is is real and you end up with mud in your glass.)

I’ve successfully purchased HardKnott beers from MyBreweryTap and BeerMerchants.

I also have two different HardKnott Queboids, and three different HardKnott Aether Blaecs. I do look forward to putting them head-to-head as well sometime!