Oaky Beer Chilli Sauce

Centre: Burning Embers, clockwise from top: Poblano, Cayenne, Serrano, mutant from the Pobalano seed packet.

Centre: Burning Embers, clockwise from top: Poblano, Cayenne, stunted Chocolate Habanero, Serrano, mutant from the Pobalano seed packet.

I harvested all the remaining chillies from my indoor chilli plants as they were starting to dry out a bit. What do you do with half a kilo of chillies… well, you make chilli sauce. Obviously. We have dried chillies hanging all over the place already. As recipes go this is pretty non-replicable due to the use of a motley collection of chilli varieties – but as a blueprint it should work for any chillies.

The magic ingredient: beer with a bit of “barrel” in it. In my case Brain’s Boilermaker – Welsh Whisky-Barrel Aged IPA… a beer that I really did not enjoy very much. Not my thing at all I’m afraid. I had bought two bottles and the other one was skulking around unloved in the back of the cupboard. A distinct attribute of the beer has is a vanilla-ish whisky-oaky flavour. This, thought I, could work quite well in a sauce… vanilla-oak chilli sauce? Sorted!




  • 600g of fresh chillies – 500g once once stems removed
    • The “power” of your chilli sauce will depend greatly on the varieties used. I have mostly “Explosive Ember” (a stunning edible-ornamental), plus quite a bit of Cayenne, and a handful of Serranos and Poblanos. This makes what normal folk may call a “medium” sauce, it has a good bite but won’t blow any heads off.
  • 440g (1 tin) of peeled plum tomatoes
  • 275g (2 medium) roughly chopped brown onion
  • 45g (4 big cloves) roughly chopped garlic
  • 400ml cider vinegar
  • 330ml oaky beer – 1 small bottle
    • I used Brain’s Boilermaker, but there are many options out there. Any of those much-reviled Innis & Gunn beers would be interesting to try, for example. Look at it this way: it’s a cheap way to add interest!
  • 1tsp black pepper – freshly ground
  • 3tbsp/30g currants – to add a little extra body & umami
  • Salt – to taste, add at end – I actually didn’t bother.


Prepare Chillies

Prepare Chillies

Purée Chillies

Purée Chillies

Prepare Other Solids

Prepare Other Solids

Purée Other Solids

Purée Other Solids

Simple. Put all the non-liquid ingredients into a food processor and “whiz” to a paste. I actually did this in two separate batches, chillies first and then the rest – because I couldn’t be bothered getting out my big food processor. Combine the paste with the liquids in a suitable sized saucepan, bring to a simmer and simmer until a desirable “saucy” consistency is reached. This took me about an hour. The consistency is such that a spoonful will slightly heap. Finally blitz the sauce to as smooth a paste as possible – for this job I used my trusty stick-blender.

Before Simmer

Before Simmer

After Simmer

After Simmer

This sauce should last at least a week in the fridge, probably a month. If you pop it straight from simmering into sterilised jars or bottles then it should keep in the cupboard for months. (Or to be certain you could pasteurise it once bottled too – this is what I did.)

With Steak

With Steak

Verdict? I was surprised how well this worked to be honest. I was a bit concerned by using such a high proportion of “Explosive Ember” chillies, which are thin skinned and very seedy. I did eat a couple whole before doing this and they proved to be pleasantly flavoured and not too bitter, otherwise I’d not have tried. The sauce is rich, has a good kick to it, and I’m certain I can “taste the wood” – per se. The vanilla-oaky flavour that I didn’t enjoy so much in the beer works much better when translated into the context of a chilli sauce.

In practice so far the sauce works well with spring rolls and grilled steak. Personally I’m looking forward to slathering a burger with it, or a sausage-inna-bun. It’ll be delicious.

After I had put everything into one big pot I mentally kicked myself, thinking: ah, dammit, I should have done two batches – one with beer and one with water. That way I’d be able to determine the taste impact of the beer with more confidence. This time next year… expect an update on this one!

Session #83 – REALLY Against The Grain

The SessionOK, sorry, the session thing… here’s a “real” one. ;) And I’ll keep it short even – and no Greene King bashing.

US IPAs & especially DIPAs… I am not convinced. Sure, most of what hits the UK from the US is past its best by the time it reaches my mouth. So I’ve stopped putting it in my mouth. However I have had some pretty fresh stuff too – including Pliny the Ever Loved And Adored By All. I mean, Pliny the Elder – and it was a pretty good beer & I’m incredibly grateful to Kirk for sharing it with us… it ticked a box for me. That box being: hm, so I guess all these “wonderful” US IPAs really do taste like they have a caramel lolly in them. A flavour that is usually pinned down to the use of crystal malt. In the case of the Pliny it was lightly but distinctly present & the super-fresh hoppiness almost… almost… compensated for it. But for me… not quite, and I probably wouldn’t put it in a personal top-10-IPA-tastebud-experiences sort of list as a result.

Now – turn to UK renditions of this new-wave-IPA style and many are what I call “clean”… in my mind this is a defining difference between US IPA & modern UK IPA as styles. Most Kernel named-after-a-list-of-hops beers fit this, Hardknott Azimuth too I think… everything hoppy by Oakham, in fact Oakham probably defines the style for me. Green Devil… mmm. Other folk I know, often folk from the US, are sometimes heard to call my “cleaner” UK IPAs “unbalanced” – they seem to want more caramel lolly in their beer. I don’t get it. I’ve been perplexed enough about this huge gap between my tastes and what seem to be the tastes of the wider “craft beer” world to wonder if there is some hop flavour involved that detect as caramel… I don’t think so. Perhaps I’m just over-sensitive to some caramel-type flavours for some reason, perhaps a “bug” in my brain means I don’t like the flavour.

It remains a puzzle. But that’s how it is – I remain unconvinced by US IPAs… however there are a hell of a lot of of US IPAs I’ve never tried. So one of these days I hope to visit the US and do a proper survey of the style as tasted fresh-as-a-daisy on its home turf. Perhaps I just haven’t found the ones that suit my tastes yet.

Session #77: IPA: What’s the Big Deal?




The Session LogoWhat’s the big deal? “IPA” has become a statement beer. If you brew one, if you drink one, you’re saying “fuck you” to the world of conformity – to steal a word from BrewDog. You’re turning aside the bland and mediocre in favour of flavour excitement. Here in the UK BrewDog led their “craft beer revolution” with IPA – flagship beers Punk IPA and Hardcore IPA are evangelism in liquid form, winning many new devotees to the beer drinking cause.* Since then we’ve seen an IPA explosion in the UK, Punk was merely the froth at the tip of a wave of beery goodness that then washed over us all. Beers still young to the world have already gained a reverence – Summer Wine Diablo, Magic Rock Cannonball, Oakham Green Devil, … and earlier IPAs such as Thornbridge Jaipur attract a deep religious devotion.

English Experiment

The English Experiment

IPA is to beer what the punchy new-world Shirazes, et al, are to wine. Often considered inelegant by “connoisseurs” – they’re brash, big, and unapologetically in your face. Hey – I grew up in Australia, I love these wines and I’ve been fed many an “old world” wine that is considered to be pretty amazing and just thought: well, yeah, it’s OK – a bit insipid, but not bad. IPA is the “new world” for beer, often literally in the use of hops from the US and New Zealand, even a few from Australia are making themselves known. UK hop growers are developing varieties that try to bring some of the punchiness and effervescence of flavour to British soils – and doing a good job of developing some very interesting flavours. Investment and change driven by IPA? (I believe French wine producers are similarly developing more punchy wines to compete with their new world rivals.) Dry Hopping, while not at all new, is becoming far more common. Beer festivals are finding that hop filters are more necessary than ever! It’s all about the hops.

Racer 5

Racer 5

What do I mean when I say “IPA”? To me… Pale: certainly no more than about 10 EBC/SRM. Big in ABV: at least 6%. High bitterness: certainly above the 40 IBU I once heard Roger Protz pronounce as being about the maximum for drinkable beer. Hoppy: not just bitterness, an IPA isn’t an IPA without the aroma dimension for me – I’ve gotta get a noseful of some hops. Opinions will, of course, differ on this. These are the qualities of what I consider to be a “good” IPA. Body can vary – I appreciate the US style with its bold caramel notes, but it isn’t for me – Given the choice I’d take a good pint of a Oakham Green Devil over an imported bottle of Bear Republic Racer 5 any day. Call me a heathen if you wish… this is the wonderful thing about beer of all types: variation, choice, difference, debate, argument. Is there any style of beer more debated than IPA? IPA with its fascinating history, myths, revivals, recreations, and regionalities. This is all part of the appeal. IPA is exciting to both the palate and the mind.

I don’t care in which directions your IPA beliefs lean – I celebrate the diversity of the style. I see it as the banner of that which we’re calling the craft beer movement, it is what we put forward to say to people: this, this is what it is all about.

Drink IPA and live.

Green Devil

Green Devil

* BrewDog: Love ‘em or hate ‘em (I opt for both) they’ve played a role in bringing IPA to the fore in the UK. Punk may not have been revolutionary, ask any Jaipur drinker, but their image and marketing machine put it out there. I was wandering through Cambridge the other day and there were a bunch of well dressed young chaps (looked like a wedding group) standing around drinking cans of Punk.

3 Good Things: Beetroot, Halloumi, Walnut

This recipe has been devised in response to Hugh’s “Three Good Thingschallenge. I am, of course, endeavouring to add beer as a sneaky fourth “good thing”. I’m adding it as a subtle addition — much the way the chefs in the TV episodes will gladly include brilliant oils, vinegars, stocks, and herbs without giving them a headline credit.

This beetroot recipe is a complete “winging it” sort of thing and I think it worked out well, but is in need of refinement. This post documents the creation of the following…

Celebration of beetroot, halloumi, walnut

While this may look complicated, it is actually made up of parts that can be created at your leisure in advance and it comes together easily when you’re ready for tea.

The components that make up the plate are:

  • Roast beetroot – purée, and grilled slices.
  • Halloumi – grilled slices
  • Spiced toasted walnuts – whole, crumbled, and pasted
The outline below serves two – albeit with leftover beetroot purée and walnut paste.

BeetrootRoast peeled beetroot

  • Beetroots – 2 just-smaller-than-tennis-ball sized
  • 2 tsp rich balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp rapeseed oil
  • 2 sprigs of fresh parsley
  • Zesty hoppy strong US-IPA-style beer
    • I’ve used “SCANNERS” from London breweries Kernel & Brodies
    • You want something around 7% ABV that uses heaps of punchy US hops
    • Think of this as a herb!

Bake your beetroots and peel them, then let cool. The steps below can be done using pre-baked beetroot from the fridge.

Take 3 slices per-person from the centre of the beetroot, about 4mm thick.

Dice the rest, discarding any hard and woody bits, and put into a food processor. Add leaves from parsley, balsamic vinegar, and rapeseed oil. Emulsify and add the beer, dribble in until a thick but just-off-runny consistency is achieved. It should be pipeable, but not pourable.

Add salt to taste, it will need some!


(“Spiced” walnuts inspired by Gill’s nuts in the Beetroot episode.)

  • 100g walnut pieces
  • 10 whole walnuts (plenty, in case they break)
  • Seeds from 8 cardamom pods
  • 1/2 tsp golden caster sugar
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • a few grinds of black pepper

Pre-heat oven to 180°C.

Dry-fry the cardamom seeds until aromatic (about 4 minutes on a low flame). Grind to powder with the salt and sugar.

Place walnuts in a pan in the oven for 10 minutes, by this time they should have started to sweat a little oil. Toss with cardamom mixture in a separate bowl then place back in roasting pan and sprinkle cardamom mix over the top. Stick this back into the oven for another 5 minutes.

When cool separate out the whole walnuts and put aside.

Split the walnut pieces into two piles, roughly crush one half.

Place the other half into a large mortar and pestle and grind to a paste, add in rapeseed oil until a thick just-pourable consistency is achieved. Add salt to taste. This is best off being a bit on the salty side, a bit like normal peanut butter, it will be used sparingly.

beetroot purée and walnut paste


Cut into the biggest squares you can, sliced about 4mm thick. This can be difficult, halloumi normally has seams and gaps in it, you’ll need to survey these and work around them. (There will be offcuts… “chefs perks” or put them aside, diced they’re a great addition to salads.)

Lay the slices flat in a pan and marinate in a dash of the IPA mentioned above, give it a good 30 minutes.

Bringing it all togetherBring it all together!

Warm a couple of plates.

Get a grill pan on the stove and make it very hot.

Put the beetroot purée in a saucepan and warm – be careful here, it needs to just warm, it should not even get close to simmering! This will kill off aromatics from the IPA and make it bitter.

Pat dry the halloumi pieces, brush with oil, and place in the grill-pan. Leave for just about a minute. Remove to a standby plate using a stiff metal scraper – be careful the cheese will be floppy and possibly a bit stuck to the grill.

Oil the beetroot slices and put them in the grill too, these can grill for 3 to 5 minutes. Meanwhile start “plating up”.

Create a pattern on the plate with the purée, in my case a huge comma.

One at a time place a square of halloumi down with a round of beetroot on top, ovelapping as you go.

Use a squeezy bottle or piping bag (ziplock bag with the corner cut out works) to put a pattern of walnut paste over the top.

Place a single whole spiced walnut on the top of each beetroot round.

Scatter crushed walnut and some chopped parsley as you see fit.

Serve! Enjoy with a glass of the beer used in the recipe – of course!

Serve, with beer!

Y–Brew 0x02 — St. Peters India Pale Ale

Well, Y-Brew 0x02 is in the fermenter.

A simple kit again — St. Peter’s India Pale Ale. In no way adulterated… yet.

The OG at 27°C looked to be about 1048, which the Brewer’s Friend temp adjustment calculator suggests to be about 1049 @ 20°C. This seems right for giving a FG above 5% (final target ABV is 5.5% — but that takes into account priming for secondary I expect).

I’m relying on a new glass hydrometer now, as the Cooper’s one seems to be way out of whack. (So who knows what Y–Brew 0x01’s ABV actually is!)

The hop powder provided was scattered in onto foam from 5 minutes of vigorous agitation (oxygenation), followed by the contents of the yeast sachet. “Pitch” temperature was about 27°C.

Vague intention to split this into two two–gallon pressure barrels and dry–hop one with Simcoe. But to do that pressure barrels must be bought, which is about £50. Could be very useful for making split brews in future though, a two gallon barrel is easier to take away and also fits in the fridge better.

This will be the last kit brew I do. Going to try extract next, probably with steeped grain using a recipe from either the Brew Your Own British Real Ale or Radical Brewing book.

Now… the waiting begins. Time to pop a Y-Brew 0x01 into the fridge perhaps!


  • Brew Kit: St. Peter’s India Pale Ale (5.5%)
  • Hops: Provided, sachet of Goldings powder plus “hop enhancer”
  • Yeast: Provided
  • Pitch Temp: 27°C
  • Date: 2012-08-27 @ ~16:00
  • OG: 1048 @ 27°C (thus ~1049)