Empire Strikes Back!

The previous post was far too serious. So to make up for it here’s a home video. With beer, and a squid! Doesn’t get better than that.

Empire Strikes Back is an exciting IPA by Moor Beer produced to showcase a new British hop called Jester, developed by Charles Faram. For a British-hop IPA this is an amazing beer, but I must admit it isn’t quite in the same league as the best of NZ and the US.

Extra geek points: notice the Hashigo Zake bottle opener? Got that from the bar itself in exchange for British Craft Beer when I was down there in 2011. Ah, the memories. (They were probably glad to see the back of this drunken Aussie-cum-Pom, though their accountant may not have been;).

Drink Moor Beer — Letchworth Beer of the Festival Presentation

In November 2012 Kathlene and I had the privilege to form a tiny delegation from North Hertfordshire CAMRA to visit the Moor Beer Company in Somerset. The purpose of our visit: to present the “Beer of the Festival” award won by their beer Revival at the 2012 Letchworth Beer and Cider festival. As reported in the previous edition of Pints of View this is a light golden and hoppy beer at 3.8% ABV. Revival was notable from the moment I first broached the cask to be rewarded by a burst of intense aroma, it was like breathing hops. The beer won the festival by popular vote, obtaining twice the number of votes of the runners up.

When you see the owl, you're there.

When you see the owl, you’re there.

Given that Somerset is a bit of a trek from North Hertfordshire we arranged to visit the brewery on a Saturday and stay overnight in a nearby inn recommended by the brewery’s owner and head brewer, Justin Hawke. After checking into the inn we continued on to the brewery… and drove straight past the small side-road it’s on. Returning back eastwards we spotted the correct turn, there was a large road sign visible from the west but no matching sign to be seen from the east. Tricky! We were soon outside a large green farm shed, a wooden owl on a bicycle wheel atop, and us knocking on the brewery door.

The wall-of-awards

The wall-of-awards

We were ushered to a corner to admire Moor’s wall of awards to keep us out of the way at first. A yeast transfer was taking place at the time and you need to be careful with your yeast! This gave us a good opportunity to study our surrounds. Moor is a typical example of a working brewery, all serious concrete and stainless steel. There is a scattering of pallets, boxes, kegs, and one luxury-item: a bottling machine. The yeast was soon safely dealt with and we were able to get the business of the award presentation and photography out of the way. We were then able to enjoy a few beer samples and have a good discussion with Justin, his staff, and a couple of local visitors. The topic, unsurprisingly, was beer — but in particular Justin’s strongly held views on matter of good beer.

Justin prefers to make, sell, and drink what he calls natural beer and doesn’t like using finings in his cask ales. These “finings” we’re talking about here are a chemical substance derived from certain types of fish which is added to cask ales to help them clear faster and brighter. The action of finings is to make yeast in the beer clump up and sink to the bottom of the barrel. The primary problem most people have with finings is that their use makes cask ale unacceptable to strict vegetarians. However Justin doesn’t believe leaving finings out is good only for vegetarians, but that it also makes the beer more flavoursome and enjoyable. Flavour components, especially hop oils, stick to small particles that are pulled down to the bottom of the barrel and thus out of your pint of beer. I have heard others counter that the haze can also carry undesirable flavours and I suspect that this is an argument that could go on for quite some time. At the end of the day the truth is in the mouth of the beer drinker.

I tasted Justin’s cask ales in unfined-form at our excellent inn, the Queen’s Arms in Cortham Denham, and can very much say that the ale was in incredibly fine form. There was a slight haze to the beer, enough to put a frown on the face of many cask ale drinkers even though the beer tastes perfectly good. This, I think, is where the battle-lines lie for unfined ales: the culture of cask ale is one where a beer will not usually be considered perfect unless it is crystal-clear. This may change over time as awareness grows, it may also be aided by the growing popularity of more heavily hopped IPAs. These strong and very hoppy ales tend to carry a “hop haze” irrespective of whether they’re fined or not.

Only time will tell on the matter of whether unfined cask ales will gain a wide acceptance in the UK. Personally I hope they do, both for the sake of my vegetarian friends and also for the simple fact that Justin’s ales do taste incredibly good. The cask of Revival we had at the Letchworth Beer Festival was fined we believe, we will certainly try to have Moor beers at future beer festivals and when this happens the beers will be unfined. You see, Justin used his last finings in December 2012 and from January 2013 all Moor beer will be unfined. You can read more about Moor Beer Company, their beers, and their stance on finings on the brewery’s website: http://moorbeer.co.uk/

I’ll leave you where I started, with Moor Brewing Co’s very fitting slogan:
“Drink Moor Beer!”

Us with the Moor team

L-R: Richard Cann (Asst. Brewer), Tom Scrancher (Asst. Brewer), Justin Hawke (Owner & Brewer), Yvan & Kathlene (N.Herts Committee), Mike Cable (Asst. Brewer), and Fred Wilde (West Country Ales)

Bottled Moor beers are available online through West Country Ales, who have a shop-front in the picturesque Cheddar Gorge. Fred Wilde, shop owner, was at the presentation and we visited his shop the next day to find a great selection of beers. Beaut Cheddar cheddar from across the road, and great west country ale… perfect. You can order Moor beers online here: http://www.westcountryales.co.uk/ — follow Fred on Twitter: @westcountryales.

If you run a pub or beer festival, we bought our Moor “Revival” from one of London’s newer beer distribution companies: Liberty Beer, they don’t currently have any regular deliveries within Hertfordshire but may be able to arrange something for you if you get in touch: http://libertybeer.co.uk/ — they’re on Twitter too: @liberty_beer.

Finally — this write-up was created as a North Hertfordshire CAMRA contribution to the Feb/Mar edition of Hertfordshire’s “Pints of View” newsletter, find it in your local Hertfordshire pub or online here: http://www.hertsale.org.uk/?newsletter


Bambi, Thumper, & Moor “Old Freddy Walker” Mince Pies

From time to time I hear it said that Christmas mince pies used to include real mince, not purely a sickly-sweet mixture of dried fruit. Wikipedia documents the use of meat in the Christmas mince pie, so it must be true. There are a few “real mince mince pie” recipes floating around; one even makes an appearance in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “The River Cottage Year“. My recipe here is based on the one from Hugh’s book, the main difference being the use of game meats instead of beef. This is the second festive season that I’ve made these mince pies, they have gone down very well at home, in the local pub, and in the office (not poisoned anyone yet!)

First: get hold of some Bambi, this shouldn’t be difficult as many supermarkets in the UK sell venison. However It may be difficult to get minced venison; ideally try to buy venison from a good butcher and ask them to mince it. I have a mincer and minced some stewing venison that I picked up in the supermarket. If mincing at home I would recommend buying venison fillets or steaks, as trimming unwanted sinew from diced meat is a pain in the backside. As much sinew as possible should be trimmed off prior to mincing, otherwise there will be chewy gristly bits in the mince pies. A fine mince is desirable, to achieve this I pushed it through a coarse plate and then my finest plate (about 4mm). This recipe includes minced Thumper (rabbit) because I didn’t quite have enough Bambi to make up the weight I wanted. (If you’re dull you could just use minced lamb or beef instead of venison and bunny, I’m thinking of trying minced 50/50 pheasant and bunny next year.)

Another difference this year is that I’ve added Moor’s Old Freddy Walker old ale to the mix instead of brandy. This is part of a recent effort on my part to cook using beer more often. It has worked out fine in this case, though I’m not sure anyone could tell that there is beer in this. Next time I might try using something like BrewDog’s Paradox Smokehead – I think that would make a mince pie that’d go down very well with a wee dram of Islay whisky.

Ingredients, prepared

Ingredients, prepared

The ingredients I used are:

  • 300g minced venison (lamb or beef will do instead of venison and bunny)
  • 50g minced bunny
  • 150g grated beef suet (preferably home-processed, but “Atora” will do)
  • 150g currants
  • 150g raisins
  • 85g ground almond
  • 2 granny smith apples, peeled and fine-chopped
  • 8 dates, chopped to about currant-size pieces
  • 140g soft brown sugar
  • 40g stem ginger in syrup, fine-chopped
  • 25g …of the syrup from the above
  • 1 lemon – juice and zest
  • 3 lemons & granulated sugar – to make candied peel (or 75g of shop-bought candied peel)
  • ½tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½tsp ground ginger
  • ½tsp ground allspice
  • 200ml strong ale (Moor’s Old Freddy Walker)

The candied peel is the most complicated of the ingredients to prepare. I made my own because a friend at work is allergic to oranges and I couldn’t find any candied peel that didn’t contain orange peel. While it would be easier to use peel from the shop, I do think that home-made candied lemon peel is more tasty and lemony than the anything shop-bought. Brief instructions for candying peel can be found at the end of this entry.[1].

The method for making the mince couldn’t be simpler: put the lot into a bowl and mix thoroughly. Hugh’s recipe suggests the mix can be kept in jars in the larder for some time, but I haven’t tried this. I put mine in a sealed container in the fridge and let it sit for at least a week to mature, and for up to 3 weeks (just because it has never lasted longer than 3 weeks!)

Puff parcels

Un-traditional puff parcels

Next thing to do is to bake some mince pies! The photo above is of mince-pie parcels simply packaged in a folded-over piece of shop-bought puff-pastry, washed with a bit of beaten egg, and baked in a 200°C oven for about 20 minutes. I prefer a sweet shortcrust pastry however, which can be simply folded over like the puff version, or formed into little pasties, or used to make little pies in tins just like the shops sell. The little mince pies are a bit of a bother to put together, but they do look good. For the pies in the photo below I used a shortcrust recipe from the Jamie Oliver website and baking was as for the puff version but with 5 minutes at 200°C then 15 at 180°C.

Traditional tarts

Traditional tarts

Have a very meaty &amp beery (not too beery) Christmas! (Well, Xmas has been and gone for 2010 now – so I hope you had one.)

[1] Candied peel, briefly:

  1. 8th the lemons and peel out the flesh
  2. With a small sharp knife slice off the inner fibrous pith (about 1mm)
  3. Blanch in simmering water for 5 minutes
  4. Drain peel and return to saucepan peel in enough fresh water to cover to double-depth
  5. Add sugar, about 1.75 times the volume of water added
  6. Bring to simmering point and simmer until liquid is thick and syrupy, but before it browns
  7. Turn out on some foil and let cool before dicing