Tastings School - The Hairy Bikers

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The Hairy Bikers

Dave Myers and Si King are the Hairy Bikers: two-wheeled, globe-trotting, beer-loving chefs from North East England. Jeff Pickthall spoke to them

The BBC has come a long way. For decades, British regional accents were frowned upon by the broadcasting powers-that-be who preferred the supercilious tones of Received Pronunciation.

Fortunately, strong and characterful accents now bless the airwaves and nowhere are they more evident than BBC television’s The Hairy Bikers’ Cookbook – two motorcyclists, habitual dodgers of scissors and razors, visit exotic locations and investigate and recreate local dishes with an accompaniment of liberal drizzles of extra-virgin wit, daftness and banter.

Biker one is Dave Myers, 49, a native of Barrow-in- Furness (a ‘Barrovian’), the town at the southern tip of Cumbria, England’s most north-westerly county. His deadpan accent is flatter than a ruined soufflé. Biker two is Si King, 40, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne; his animated Geordie chatter adds spice the proceedings.

The theme of their two TV series and books is simple – ride motorbikes, cook and eat local food and drink the local drink, especially beer: “We asked the BBC – can we take on the countries’ beer and drinking cultures, they said yes, which is great because you can put the research against expenses.” Although destinations aren’t necessarily chosen for beer, it often gets a look-in. Namibia is a case in point, Dave explains: “Swakopmund was a German colony, and a brewery is the biggest employer in town. It makes superb beer, thirst quenching too, it needs to be, it’s the hottest country in the world.” Si takes over with a big fond sigh: “Tafel, whoarrr: we had it to take the taste of Mopani worms [caterpillars of the Emperor Moth] out of our mouths.

You bite through the crispy bit, the outside, and you get this mushy heap of sandy shite that smells of rotten beef and old trainers. The only thing to get rid of this flavour was Tafel beer, so we drank lots of it.” The Hairy Bikers toured Vietnam for their first series and discovered an unusual beer culture. Every morning at six, representatives of the local breweries, Hanoi Brewery, Viet Ha Brewery and South East Asia Brewery gather to deliver individual kegs, often by scooter or wheelbarrow, to a multitude of outlets that advertise ‘Bia Hoi.’ The smallest outlets buy from bigger outlets where they send boys with containers no bigger than petrol cans. The fresh beer is consumed throughout the day with snacks during breaks from work. “The beer’s strange in Hanoi: every day, it’s fresh, they have it in a stainless steel dustbin. Every day it’s brand-new brewed. It’s ice-cold, nice and a bit sour – and it creeps up on you!” adds Si.

Closer to home, the duo raved about Okells the dominant brewer on the motorcyclefriendly Isle of Man. “Isle of Man, yeah great beer, whatsit? Okells, Oikells, Yokels,” reminisces Myers, with a Geordie roar from King who declares something that sounds like “Erkles.” Okells is expanding its estate into ‘the other island’ and pubs can now be found in Liverpool, Leeds, Aberystwyth and Chester. They stock a decent range of imported craft beers to complement Okells’ own cask-conditioned beers.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the Hairy Bikers’ tour of Belgium proved fruitful and two episodes of their second series are devoted to it. Myers explains – “Belgium was a no-brainer really, Bush [Bush Amber, 12% ABV, also known, for legal reasons, as ‘Scaldis’] was your epiphany wasn’t it Si? You just liked ordering it because it was called Bush!

‘Ooh, gimme some Bush dear.’ I was going round all the beers not looking at the strengths, I was rocking when I stood up. I went through all the Chimays and Orval but him, stuck on his Bush all night, was like Shrek lumbering around the little bar.” Asked if they had tried lambic and gueuze beers Dave is enthusiastic.

When an explanation of their characteristically sour flavours is offered Si splutters: “Spontaneous fermentation, airborne wild yeasts, what the ****?” Dave reminds him: “We really liked it, but the crew didn’t get it at all. I’m remembering now, it’s all coming into focus, whoarrr.” The night’s beer exploration took place at ’t Brugs Beertje bar in picturesque Bruges. The bar is owned and run by Daisy Claeys who will analyse your preferences and choose the perfect beer for you. Estimates of the number of beers stocked vary from 150 to 300, almost every one with a dedicated glass.

Food and beer are one and the same in Belgium – cooking with beer is taken very seriously and the bikers visited the renowned beer restaurant Den Dyver run by the Vandenbussche family where every dish includes beer as an ingredient. Filip Vandenbussche has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants and he takes his beer sauces very seriously. “It’s a real highend restaurant and he does things like sabayon of the lighter Chimay to go with cod and it goes really well.” In southern Belgium, the Province de Luxembourg, the bikers visited the spectacular Orval Monastery, which includes the Orval brewery. “We spent an afternoon with the brewmaster. The brewery is the only place where you can get draught Orval – from one keg, this one pump. The beer’s not served too cold but the glass is absolutely icy from the fridge. He said ‘this is the best beer you’ll ever have’, and it was, it was unbelievable. It tasted slightly different because it was poured from a mass of beer rather than a small bottle, it was soooo good.” Si was impressed by Orval’s elegant bottle and chalice-like glass, “Ooh, the chalice, that’s what I loved about it, the etiquette, the sense of occasion. A reverence, ah, very much so.” The book accompanying series two, Hairy Bikers Ride Again, covers India, Argentina, Morocco and Belgium.

Belgian beer recipes include Banging Belgian Onion Soup, Beer and Cheese Bread, Flemish Chicken with Prunes and Beer, Carbonade a la Flamande and the mysterious Blind Finches in Beer Gravy.

Si talks us through the recreation of Blind Finches: “I first used [Shepherd Neame] Spitfire but there was a real bitterness to the flavour; it really wasn’t working very well so I blended it with Newcastle Brown, more caramel from the malt and it worked much better. Then I tried it with Young’s Waggledance for some sweetness and it was spot-on. The recipe in the book is now spot-on. Hoppy beers don’t work for it but Orval worked and dark Chimay did it with that molasses thing in the flavour.” The world-weary Hairy Bikers spoke to Beers of the World at the end of their two-week UK promotional booksigning tour which precedes a wellearned two month break during which they plan to re-acquaint themselves with some favourite UK brews. Si expresses great enthusiasm for a local North Eastern brew:“My great ‘yeah!’ moment was my first pint of Mordue Workie Ticket, still my favourite, I absolutely love it, I really look forward to coming home for it.” The Mordue Brewery in North Shields near Newcastle won CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain with Workie Ticket in 1997. Winning CBOB is often a ticket to national recognition and accelerated production, yet Mordue resisted, deciding instead to keep to small-scale, hands-on brewing and still, 10 years on, don’t bottle its beers.

Engagingly daft humour is a key ingredient of the Hairy Bikers’ presentation and throughout our interview Myers and King are watched over by gifts from an engagingly daft admirer – two bottles of Young’s Waggledance bearing home-made bottle protectors; one a magpie in a football shirt (actually a toy penguin), the mascot of Newcastle United, the other, a rubber chicken bearing coloured-bead nipple tassles. Perhaps we’ll see more of them being put to good use in series three.

The beers
Tafel Lager www.nambrew.com
Okells Brewery www.okells.co.uk
Bush www.br-dubuisson.com
Brugs Beertje www.brugsbeertje.be
Den Dyver www.dyver.be
Orval Brewery www.orval.be
Mordue Brewery www.morduebrewery.com