Tastings School - A beer lover's banquet (Ale & Pie Pubs)

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A beer lover's banquet (Ale & Pie Pubs)

A great deal of thought goes in to the Fuller's beer and food menu. Purely in the interests of research, Ben McFarland went along to a tasting session

London brewer Fuller, Smith & Turner has a selection of pubs called the “Fuller’s Ale & Pie Pubs.” In these pubs you can get lovely ale. And you can get lovely pies. Put them together, and you’ve got something pretty special. In fact, you’ve arguably got the finest beer and food pairing known to human kind.

But Fuller’s, a pioneering regional brewer if ever there was one, is not one to rest on its beer and food laurels. Oh no. Every few months, as part of its ongoing mission to celebrate the gastronomic love affair between the two, a beer and food banquet is held in one of Fuller’s award-wining pubs.

The idea, apart from being a great way to spend a Friday afternoon, is to help create a beer and food menu that will then be rolled-out into a number of exclusive Fuller’s venues.

So, more than 20 different beers, eight mouthwatering courses and a panel of more than a dozen Fuller’s employees and real ale enthusiasts (and one salivating, thigh-rubbing freeloading journalist always on the look out for a free lunch) came together in the search for hop and haute cuisine harmony.

John Keeling, the outspoken and charismatic head brewer at Fuller’s, chose the selection of beers (not just his own) and chaired proceedings but was careful not to shape anyone’s views.

“The idea is to let people experiment and not to rely on the views of the so-called expert,” he said. The versatility of beer, he argued, is sorely underestimated and greater than that of wine.

“It’s a mystery to me why wine is always chosen ahead of beer. There’s not nearly the same scope for experimentation. We simply couldn’t do what we’re doing here today with wine, it just wouldn’t work. It’d cost you a fortune, you’d be absolutely plastered by the end of the meal and, most importantly, there wouldn’t be the range of flavours on offer.” Rather than just offer one beer with each dish, John proposed two in an effort to showcase the diversity of flavours in both the beers and the food pairings they create.

“One should complement the dish and the other will contrast – which works better? Well, that depends on one’s taste,” he added. “A beer should always refresh the palate and that’s the advantage that beer has over wine.” According to John, the adaptability of beer is no more apparent than when paired with a chocolate dessert. “A porter will complement the dish, sharing the burnt, coffee and toffee flavours,” he said.

“Or then you can go for a Kriek which provides a departure in flavour yet, like a compote or a sauce, goes both against the grain and amazingly well. When you come across a great pairing, the last mouthful should taste as good as the first and, if it makes the beer taste better then, well, all the better.”

1) LEEK AND POTATO SOUP

Fuller’s Honey Dew (5% ABV) A golden hued and completely organic beer brimming with sweet and refreshing honey notes.

Vs

Schneider Weiss (5% ABV) Hints of Juicy Fruit chewing gum, bananas and chocolate can be discovered in this Bavarian beauty which is unfiltered (Hefe Weizen), just the way Germans and purists like it.

Verdict: The soup was delicate yet creamy and called for something that treaded carefully around its dainty flavours yet didn’t get lost in the broad texture. The Schneider Weiss, a great beer in both senses of the word, had the carbonation to cope with cream and added some nice peppery notes to proceedings but ultimately overpowered the soup.

Honey Dew, meanwhile, proved to be a willing partner in crime, bringing out the soup’s everso sweet side without overriding the star of the show.

Winner: Honey Dew

2) BLACK PUDDING WITH BUBBLE AND SQUEAK

Fuller’s London Pride (4.7% ABV) The flagship Fuller’s brew. A rich and complex mix of Challenger, Target and Northdown hops underpinned by a distinctive malty character. Flowery and very drinkable.

Vs

Goose Island Honkers Ale (4.7% ABV) A pale amber beer full of fruity hops and a crisp, digestive malty hit and a clean, bitter finish.

Verdict: This was a close one. The barley and oatmeal in the black pudding found a friend in the malty London Pride but the Honkers, packing a greater bitter hit, sliced through the rich flavours of the pudding and the bubble and squeak. The Pride just edges it on the grounds of refreshment. Many agreed that the black pudding, so often served with a raspberry vinaigrette, may well suit a Liefmans Kriek.

Winner: London Pride

3) TERIYAKI SALMON WITH WASABI CUCUMBER
Fuller’s Discovery (4.2% ABV) Zesty blonde beer made from Liberty hops with a sky-high quench factor.

Vs

Fuller’s Honey Dew (5% ABV) A golden hued and completely organic beer brimming with sweet and refreshing honey notes.

Vs

Schneider Weiss (5% ABV)
Hints of Juicy Fruit bubblegum, bananas and chocolate can be discovered in this Bavarian beauty which is unfiltered (Hefe Weizen), just the way Germans and purists like it.

Verdict: The Discovery, while reviving, couldn’t quite compete with the flavoursome fisticuffs of the Teriyaki salmon and the Fuller’s Honey Dew added sweetness but not much else.

Place the Schneider Weiss and the wasabi in your mouth at the same time, though, and you’ve got quite a clash on your palate. Not a bar-room brawl but rather a capoeira-style coming together of coriander and spice. Marvellous.

Winner: Schneider Weiss

4) BELLY OF PORK WITH SAUERKRAUT AND FRANKFURTER

Duvel (8.5% ABV) Pale lemon colour, fine mousse and bursting with flavours of ripe pears and cloves.

Vs

Fuller’s 1845 (6.3% ABV) Fruity, strong and full of spice and all things nice. A beer to revere and respect in equal measure.

Verdict: For a beer with such strength, in both flavour and ABV, Duvel copes with delicate food flavours awfully well, especially the crackling of the pork, and won this particular battle.

The smoky flavours of the frankfurter, however, were enhanced by the chocolate and toffee notes in the 1845.

Winner: Duvel

5) POACHED LANGOUSTINE WITH MOROCCAN AUBERGINE

Brooklyn Lager (5.% ABV) Pioneering head brewer Garrett Oliver dry hops this amber-gold Viennese-style lager to give it a wonderfully floral, bitterness with a crisp finish.

Vs

Anchor Liberty Ale (5.9% ABV) Inspired by Timothy Taylor Landlord and Young’s Special, this San Franciscan brew is unashamedly hoppy, has a glorious citrus aroma and a fruity, long and juicy finish.

Verdict: A difficult dish to cater for as the langoustine’s freshness represented a marked departure from the spicy chutzpah of the aubergine. The Brooklyn Lager had just enough malty sweetness to stand up to the aubergine but flooded the langoustine with flavour.

The Liberty Ale let the flavours of the aubergine and seafood run free, its bitterness coping with the grease of the aubergine a little better than the Brooklyn. The herbal Cascade hop wrapped itself around the lime and spice in a dish that, in turn, turned a brash, ball-busting beer into something a lot more complex and layered.

Winner: Liberty Ale

6) BISON STEAK IN RED WINE GRAVY

Fuller’s London Porter (5.4% ABV) Smooth, rich and strong and brewed with crystal, chocolate and brown malts, this porter is a classic example of this quintessentially London beer style.

Vs

Fuller’s ESB (5.5% ABV) Nutty and fruity, strong and subtle, ESB is a sturdy beer if ever there was one.

Verdict: The meat, cooked to tender perfection yet raging in flavour, was not going to suffer feint-hearted fools. It gave ESB, no stranger to robust tastes, the almighty heave-ho but found a willing and able sparring partner in the London Porter.

The latter of the Fuller’s stablemates brought out the char-grilled chocolate character in the meat and, when sampled together in the same mouthful, produced a full-on coffee explosion.

Watch out oysters, because porter may have found a new partner in the unlikely guise of the bison.

Winner: Fuller’s London Porter

7) SUMMER PUDDING WITH CRÈME FRAICHE

Liefman’s Kriek (6% ABV) A Belgian cherry beer produced by adding cherries to brown ale and leaving for a further maturation period. Dark, strong and sweeter than a puppy in a dress.

Vs

Fuller’s London Porter (5.4% ABV) Smooth, rich and strong and brewed with crystal, chocolate and brown malts, this porter is a classic example of this quintessentially London beer style.

Vs

Liefman’s Frambozen (4.5% ABV) Same as above but with raspberries instead of...er… cherries! A massive raspberry aroma gives way to a surprisingly subtle mouthfeel.

Verdict: You’d think that an English summer pudding, teeming with lovely fresh fruit, would be an ideal stamping ground for Belgian fruit beers. Strangely, though, you can have too much fruitiness.

The majority of the panel agreed that a contrast rather than a complement was what was called for here and, so, it was the rich, chocolate flavours of the London Porter that received the collective thumbs-up.

Winner: Fuller’s London Porter

8) HEREFORD HOP CHEESE, ESB CHUTNEY AND WATER BISCUITS

Fuller’s ESB (5.5% ABV) Nutty and fruity, strong and subtle, ESB is a sturdy beer if ever there was one.

Vs

Fuller’s Vintage Ale (8.5% ABV) A bottle-conditioned legend. Warm, mellow and soothing with a fruity kick.

Verdict: No contest. While the ESB performed more than adequately, the match of Vintage Ale and cheese is one made in heaven. It blows any notion that port is an ideal accompaniment to cheese clear out the water. Lovely.

Winner: Fuller’s Vintage Ale