Despite the days stretching out, there’s still plenty of bite in the air to force your hand to stews and broths in the kitchen at this time of year. We all know what cracking bedfellows stews and beers are, but we normally lean toward Beef, Lamb and Dark ales. Chicken Stew is also a good match for golden ales, as long as you stay on the sweeter side. So here’s my recipe for a super-simple one-pot Chicken & Rice Stew. This recipe serves four, or two for two days.
In a large stock pot, slowly sweat one whole Leek and four peeled and diced Carrots. When the carrots are soft, add two pints of chicken stock, and four chicken thighs (with legs). Let these simmer for about 25 minutes, then remove the thighs and legs. Once these have cooled, pull (with your fingers, there’s no other way around it!) all the meat off, and return to the broth. The skin won’t really be worth eating, but if you want to add it in, then do.
Pour in 200g of Rice – use the type you’d use for Paella; Arborio or Bomba, if you can get it – they’ll fluff up and thicken the broth. Now, all you need to is season the broth with a little Salt, one crushed Garlic clove, white Pepper, fresh, chopped Thyme and Rosemary. Stir, then leave to simmer on a low heat for another 30 minutes.
Like I mention above, sweet Golden ales go well with these thick, savoury broths.I enjoyed Coniston’s Bluebird XB (4.2% abv) with the broth this time; it’s toffee-sweet in the body; just teetering on the edge of too sweet, rescued by a crisp bite and robust kick of flavour that’s worthy of the landscape from whence it came. Tempered with this easy-going broth, there’s plenty to be happy about, even if the weather outside is still frightful.
One of the earliest memories of being in a pub concerned Scotch Eggs. I was young, probably about ten (so this would be about 1990), and my grandmother was taking me to the Leeds Dental Hospital for some work. My teeth were terrible in those days. Anyway, afterwards, we went for lunch in Whitelocks and my Grandmother plumped for a Scotch Egg. So far, so idyllic – but what remained in my mind was that it was freshly-cooked – and warm. There was tomato sauce. And a little salad. God knows what I had – probably Fish Fingers and pop or something, but that Scotch Egg lodged itself in my mind as the king of all pub snacks. I had never seen anything like it. The eggs in my granddad’s Butcher’s shop were like little golden pool-balls, sitting in rows in white cardboard boxes. They were a little strange and tasted…well, flabby.
Fast forward twenty-odd years and the little egg that could has made an undoubted comeback. Not only is it being served in any self-respecting Gastropub, there are boutique Scotch-Egg makers supplying pubs up and down the country with high-end eggs wrapped in sausage. Or maybe Black Pudding. Or perhaps Braised Pig’s Cheek or even Chickpeas. Because it’s the chameleon-esque nature of it that makes it appeal; whatever flavour you desire, you can probably get, within reason. Pie and Sausages enjoy the same sense of no boundaries.
Anyway, it occurred to me a few months ago that I had never made them. I had read this article by Melissa Cole ages ago, and it remained lodged in my ‘read-later’ file for ages. I mean, how much fun does that look? Anyway, I pay homage to that today and publish the two recipes that we enjoyed at the start of the summer. Scotch Eggs aren’t that easy to make – there’s a certain knack, for sure – but once you pull a perfectly golden, sizzling ball of meat out of the fryer, split it, and get that perfectly oozy egg yolk, you’re the king of the world.
Here’s the base recipe, then. I’ve used Melissa’s base recipe and method, and it worked a treat. First up, Chorizo Scotch Eggs. I tried to approximate the flavour of Chorizo by spicing up my pork mix, and it worked pretty well. Of course, you can just buy flavoured Sausage – but where’s the fun in that?
Firstly, chop one small Onion and lightly fry it oil, along with three cloves of chopped Garlic. Don’t let the Garlic burn, as it turns bitter. Once done, leave to cool.
Take 8 Plain Pork Sausages out of their skins and put in a bowl, then season with a twist of White Pepper, two splashes of Original Tabasco Sauce, A dollop of Honey, a handful of chopped, fresh parsley, and a heaped tablespoon of smoked Paprika. Finally, add a teaspoon of Chilli Powder. Mix well (a plastic-gloved hand is best) and don’t forget to use good-quality sausage.
Once mixed, cover with clingfilm and leave for the flavour to settle into the meat – in the fridge, for about twenty minutes.
Meanwhile, take four eggs and place in boiling water for five minutes. Remove from the water, and plunge into a bowl of cold water. Refresh the cold water a couple of times as it warms up. Whilst this is happening, beat two Eggs into a bowl, and sit next to a plate of Plain Flour, and a plate of Breadcrumbs. Make your own, by all means, but I’m a sucker for the ready-made kind. My natural breadcrumbs don’t ever achieve the same crunch. Do as you wish!
Put your oil on to heat – you want to get it to about 170-180 degrees and I used Olivio. Be careful around hot oil, as always.
Now to make the Scotch Eggs. On previous attempts I struggled with this – until I read Melissa’s trick; grease a sheet of cling film, and use it to ‘roll’ the egg. Place a patty of your meat on the sheet, place your ‘peeled’ egg in the middle, and using the sheet, roll it around the egg. Don’t put too thick a Sausage rind on the egg – it won’t cook through.
Roll your egg in the flour, then dip in the egg, then flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. This is how I do it – if you have a preferred breading method, then use that.
Chill your eggs (aim for four) in the fridge for another 15 minutes to firm up. In the meantime, heat your oil to around 170-180 degrees. I used Olivio. Fry for about 7-9 minutes, keeping an eye on the colour, and then drain on Kitchen Roll. When you’re happy to touch them, you’re all set. Serve with Salad, a few chips, some cheese – whatever you want. It’s your Egg. Personally, I like a massive dollop of brightly yellow English Mustard – enough to make your nose throb! For harmony, though, I mixed Tabasco with Paprika into Mayo to make a piquant little sauce.
I enjoyed my Chorizo Egg with a bottle of Adnam’s Sole Star; a real gem for a low – alcohol beer (it weighs in at 2.8% abv), the light feel of it didn’t battle the creamy egg and strongly-spiced meat, and it’s caramel heart gave up enough sweetness to make it a very satsifying combo. In fact, I’d say the egg gave the beer more oomph.
Another variation that I made was the Smoked Bacon and Cheese Egg; same method as above, but begin by gently frying some chopped, smoked Bacon, and leaving to cool after draining. Chop about 15 pickled Silverskin Onions into little prices, and add them to the pork. When the bacon is cool, add that, along with a twist of Black Pepper and about 150g of sharp Cheddar. Finally, squeeze a swirl of Maple Syrup over it – not too much. Mix well, and away you go – like a little Ploughman’s in each bite.
For that, I’d recommend a no-nonsense Bitter such as Marble’s Manchester Bitter or Hobson’s Town Crier – although, for comparison, I would also like to try something a little snappier such as Dark Star’s Sunburst or Gadd’s No 3, too – something to stand up to those onions!
Overall, I was pleased; certainly with the flavours, and my only criticism would be that the meat pulled away a little from the breadcrumbs. But all sliced up, ready to eat and a pint of beer on the side, it made for a satisfying lunch that took me right back to one of my earliest food memories.
A few weeks ago I grabbed a punnet of Blueberries- the last of the season, I’d suspect – and the Americophile in me immediately thought of Blueberry Pancakes. Easy to make and super-filling, they are delicious and are great to enjoy with a Stout or Porter. There’s loads of recipes out there, but here’s mine. The recipe is actually a ‘Scotch Pancake’ one that I’ve always used, so I doubt it’s authentically American – but it’s delicious nonetheless.
You will need to make a thick batter with 175g of Self-Raising Flour, 45g of Caster Sugar, and a Teaspoon of Baking Powder. Sift into a bowl, then make a well in the middle and add one egg – the largest one you can get. Beat in about 100ml of Whole Milk, then beat in another 100ml until it reaches a creamy, yet thick, consistency. Finally, add a ‘crapload’ (offical terminology) of Blueberries. However many you want, you drop in.
Heat a small pan and warm a knob of Butter. When foaming, drop a large ladle of the mixture in, and let it settle out. Remember, you want it thick . I find cooking it on a high heat to ‘seal it’, then turning it down slightly to cook one side through before flipping it works best. Flip (with spatulas!!) and cook the other side. It’ll take about a minute and half/two minutes each side.
Demolish warm, with a dusting of Caster Sugar, or a dollop of Vanilla Ice-Cream. I enjoyed my last one with a pint of Wickwar’s excellent Station Porter (6%abv). A multiple award-winner, it’s a Porter I’ve enjoyed a lot of over the years in both bottle and the odd occasion on cask. There’s a lot more going on in it than you’d expect – and by that I mean it’s full of flavour. Sweet at first, it pops up with plenty of blackberry and plum, before drying right out on a wave of milky coffee and vanilla. There’s the slightest hint of oak at the end adding a little more complexity, but the sweetness of the Pancake rounds everything out nicely.
Summer flavours meets Autumnal beer? Yes, I think so. It’s that time of year. As I mentioned, Blueberries are gone now, so feel free to substitute for Blackberries, which are bursting into life on bramble bushes everywhere right now.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of sampling a collaboration between Fyne and Wild called…er…Fyne and Wild, a low-alcohol (2.9% abv) Saison with Cucumber and Mint. Sounds disgusting, I hear you say….beer for hipsters! I hear the outraged splutter. Actually, it’s none of those. It’s a low-alcohol beer that compensates for its lack of body (which, let’s face it, all low abv beers have) with another flavour. By that, I mean a flavour other than hops.
Low alcohol beers lack bass notes; although some are plenty tasty – Adnam’s Sole Star and Rooster’s Low Life are two I’ve enjoyed a fair few times – you do end up moving up a level after one, purely out of a need for something a little more in terms of body. This new generation of low-alcohol beers are experimenting with flavour and style as much as making beers for the pregnant or designated driver (or to enjoy cheap duty, if you’re cynical).
As I drained my Fyne & Wild it occurred to me that this is almost brewed for food; drinking, my mind wandered to Salmon and Watercress, Baked Feta, a bowl of Olives – all down to the flavours in the beer. It wasn’t even registering that it was low in alcohol, if I’m being honest.
There was a difference to it – call it a novelty, if you like – but in a more homogenous way than a celebrity – endorsed beer for food. You see, beer brewed for food isn’t necessary. There’s simply no need for it. They are of no use to bring people in who don’t regularly drink – or buy – beer with food in mind.
Beer is so diverse that any beer that you brew specifically for, say, Chinese food, will be the last in a long line of beers that go well with Chinese food; one for every taste, preference and palate. But you know that already, right – that’s why you get celebrity chefs to endorse them. Then they disappear; no matter how good the chef or how genuinely into beer he is, they always feel like cash-ins. Chefs; if you want to genuinely further the cause, use your considerable reach to simply put beer into the hands of your diners in your restaurants. That’s all you need to do.
Could the niche of low-abv beers work better when supplemented with spices, herbs and whatnot? A blank canvas for flavour and experimentation for a different audience than your regular beer drinker? Would non beer-drinkers be more inclined to try a low-abv sharing bottle of something with a meal than launching straight into the Belgian classics, for example? There has to be more than simply boosting the hops to bring the focus away from the lack of depth in the body, right? Or is alcohol too much of a major factor in what makes beer good with food?
Wild are currently bottling this, and I hope to get my hands on some before this weather inevitably disappears.
When I look back a few years to the time when smaller, independent (yes, go on then – craft breweries) were really starting to gather steam, I invariably think of Hardknott. Dave Bailey (Brewer, Doer, Force Majeure) whose enthusiasm for the subject inspired and enraged people in equal measure, was someone who seemed to pop up everywhere; be it personally draying beer to far off places like London and Edinburgh, or making sure that his voice was heard in any debate both personally or online. Hardknott were pushing against the tide, pulling others into their circle and collaborating left, right and centre. His blog provided a useful and interesting view from behind the bar and inside the mash tun at a time when everything seemed so fresh and exciting. Battle lines were being drawn.
It helped that Hardknott’s beers backed up the rhetoric; bold, flavoursome beers that forced you to take notice. Beers that seemed perfectly brewed for both the kitchen (something that’s ingrained in the Hardkott ethos) and the bar. Sure, Hardknott seemed to suffer a little from the same ailments that many small breweries hit once an initial wave has broken on the beach – slightly inconsistent bottles, the odd flavour changes with cask beers as they find their feet, but that’s only to be expected.
I last spoke to Dave at the Leeds International Beer Festival last year – where I spent much of the afternoon glugging his excellent English Experiment IPA. We had a very brief hello at Indy Man the month after. We caught up, laughed, and that was that. I hadn’t tried any Hardknott beer since.
Why? I think, looking back as I write this, Hardknott ‘graduated.’ In my mind, Hardknott’s beers stopped shouting at me and grabbing my collar, urging me to look their way across a bar that’s even more crowded than it was in 2010 – but this time, it’s not just a range of 4% ‘Pale and Hoppy’ beers beckoning me; it’s a bar full of …well, beers like theirs. I know (and can rely on) Hardknott – so I can move onto something else. After all, there’s so much damn choice.
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and when I was faced with new bottles on a beer shop recently, I made sure to pick some up. It was like reacquainting myself with an old friend; in fact, that was exactly what it was. Whilst the beer world followed Hardknott’s (amongst others, of course) lead, Hardknott have quietly expanded, rebranded (in an excellent fashion, helped along by Lemon Top Creative, bagged a decent spot in Booth’s and – to use a wanky business term – grown muscle. Much like the rebrand, the trio of Hardknott bottles I enjoyed were lean and trim; rough edges smoothed out and honed, hungry for action – the way a football manager would want players to return after a summer break.
First up, Continuum (4% abv) – which, at first sip, recalls early SNPA without the alcohol. Golden, yet served in a small enough bottle to instinctively make you reach for the tulip as opposed to the pint glass. it’s packed with flavour; pine sap and blackcurrant on the nose, an undertow of creamy malt and a more sappy, bitterly rising. It’s Hardknott’s session beer, apparently – in terms of alcohol, I’ll take that, but it’s still a shot to the tastebuds, without being too tiring.
Infra Red ups the ante with a 6% abv punch, and still has all the swagger that made it such a hit when it first appeared in pubs and bars in what seems like decades ago now. Ruddy of hue and redolent both in the nose and body of Raisin and brown sugar, there’s plenty of Orange pith streaking through it, whooping and hollering, to cut through all that malt give the beer a drying finish. Another beer that’s way too easy to drink. If Theakston were starting up now, this may be what Old Peculier would taste like.
Azimuth (5.8%abv) finishes the session. Borne out of a desire to brew something similar to Infra Red (ie an IPA), but without the malt profile, Azimuth is, simply, a wonderful beer. Peachy-golden in colour, the nose has plenty of stone-fruit, apricot jam and boiled sweet notes jumping out at you, and the beer itself manages a sly trick of tasting sweet (with more boiled sweet and jam) first, then bitter (Grapefruit and Mango), then turning sweet again at the end of the sip. The end result is a beer that I can only really sum up in one word: Juicy. It’s a juicy IPA. There you go.
With casual food suggestions on the label, these three bottles were an absolute pleasure to get to know again. Hardknott have quietly upped their game and more than hold their own – and it’s a wonderful thing to see a modern brewery progress and grow in such a natural way. Well done Dave, Ann and Graeme (not to forget Alex Routledge) – it’s a pleasure to meet you again.
So, a short blast of summer sun and I already want meals that reflects it; light, tasty, mostly Mediterranean -inspired food. An invitation extended to family for ‘Sunday Dinner’ becomes problematic when you don’t want the full ordeal of a Roast – so – what to do?
Cheese-stuffed Chicken wrapped in Bacon is a bit of a simple crowd-pleaser, especially if you use really good ingredients. I’ve made this a thousand times before and it’s a perennial favourite. If you make the sauce in advance (which I would always recommend you do) then it’s really just a case of keeping an eye on the oven; while you have a beer, of course. So, to start, make the tomato sauce: One large bottle of Passata goes into a saucepan with a glug of Olive Oil, Black Pepper, three cloves of Garlic (chopped), a pinch of Sugar, Basil and Oregano. Stir well, and simmer gently for only five minutes. You can turn off the heat and leave it to stand, covered.
To make the filling, empty one tub of Ricotta Cheese into a bowl, and add to that a little grated Cheddar. You could also use Parmigiano or Pecorino; the idea is simply to spike the Ricotta with something a little more punchy – as it can be quite bland in itself. Season with Black Pepper and a little Salt. Place in the fridge to cool back down and stiffen slightly for another 20 minutes.
Take Chicken Breasts, and slice a pocket in the largest part, being careful not to slice through the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the filling, and then wrap in bacon. The bacon’s got to be good; I used C&K’s excellent Beer and Black Treacle Bacon (which they kindly sent me after I drooled over it on Twitter) but otherwise I would use any smoked bacon – the deeper the smoke, the better.
When I wrap the bacon around the chicken I tend to fix it with toothpicks. Your chicken will have cheese bursting out of one side, and if you can ‘seal’ that side with bacon, you’re onto a winner.
All wrapped up? Cool, turn your oven on to 175c. Whilst that’s warming up, you need to seal the wrapped chicken in a pan, turning over on all sides and watching to make sure the cheese doesn’t leak out. Again, I find doing this helps the cooking process along and helps keep the cheese inside the chicken once it goes into the oven.
Once browned on all sides, transfer the breasts to the hot oven and cook for about 20-25 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. You may get some liquid escaping from the cheese and chicken; if that happens, drain it off – you don’t want the meat standing in it.
Serve with the sauce and some herbed roast potatoes; use Rosemary and Thyme. Beer-wise, you don’t want anything too hoppy as I feel it makes the tomato sauce taste a little strange; something with a hint of sweetness in the body is what you want. Adnam’s versatile Spindrift (5% abv) is a good choice; light, refreshing and jaunty, perfectly quaffable. In fact, pick up a few and enjoy them in the garden after enjoying your dinner.
Years ago – when my wife and I were ‘just seeing each other’ and acting all cool about it – we took one of our regular holidays to Greece. Halkidiki, to be exact. It was great, as most of our Greek trips are. One afternoon we took a walk up to a beach other than ‘ours’ , and whilst taking a lunch break we spotted a beachside Taverna. Beach-distressed, peeling Blue and White Paint, grandmother in the kitchen, mother out front and sons and daughters waiting tables. You know the kind.
We spotted a dish called Granny’s Meatballs, spelled in pidgin English on the menu. Much hilarity ensued and we both ordered it – purely for shits and giggles. The joke was firmly on us, as the meatballs in question were something that we still talk about to this day, getting on for ten years later. What made them, was that they were braised, rather than grilled, fried or baked. Once you’ve tried this, you won’t go back – and it’s genuinely one of the tastiest things I can make.
Firstly, make your meatballs. Mix minced Turkey (trust me) with chopped, good quality smoked streaky bacon (no horse!) and season with white pepper, Salt, freshly-blitzed breadcrumbs, an onion (chopped finely), Oregano, Thyme and two minced Garlic cloves. Cover with cling film and leave to one side whilst you make your braising broth.
The broth itself should look weak. It’s a broth, not a sauce – bear that in mind. In a pan, add one pint of chicken stock to a small carton of tomato passata, or three large grated tomatoes. It’s a messy job, grating tomatoes, but I’ve seen numerous chefs and cooks in Greece doing it. To that, stir in a little black pepper, a little more Thyme, another minced clove of Garlic and a drop of l. Olive Oil. Bring to the boil, then leave to simmer gently.
Time to assemble the dish. Slice one whole lemon and lay on the bottom of your baking dish. This addition of Lemon is the key to this recipe; I’d go as far as to say that if you don’t have lemon, don’t make it. Arrange the meatballs on top, then fill halfway up the meatballs with the stock.
Cover with tinfoil, and carefully place in a pre-heated oven. Cook at 160c for about 40 minutes, checking halfway that you’ve not run out of stock, and adding more if needed. The stock should always be halfway up the side of the meatballs. Cooking them this way gives them a lovely soft texture, and retains all the flavour in the meat; which will taste mild and smoky all at once. The lemon and herbs are the kicker though; adding an aromatic, zesty streak throughout the dish.
Serve with crusty bread (or Chips, perhaps!) and, of course, a beer. Given the lightness of the flavours involved – which is a surprise, as you’re expecting something much heavier – I would recommend Brasserie Des Sources’ Bellerose Biere Blonde Extra (6.5%abv). It’s fairly widely available now and has some interesting flavours going on; familiar Belgian influences in the nose of spice and citrus rind – wich picks up in the broth nicely – and a bitter, somewhat clean finish after a sweet start. Get a couple of these poured and enjoy some summery flavours as those blue skies just start making an appearance.
If you can’t get your hands on this, I would also recommend trying not-too-hoppy Pale Ales, and one of the raft of UK lagers that are out there at the moment, such as Hawkshead’s Lager, West’s St Mungo or Saisons and Biere De Gardes.
The name of the game here is richness; rib-sticking cheese and bacon – so don’t make too much of this. You won’t need lots! Begin by getting your Pancake batter mixed and ready in a bowl; sift 4oz of plain flour and a pinch of salt into a bowl. Break two eggs into the middle, and begin to mix into a stiff batter. Slowly add milk until you get to the consistency of single cream.
You can leave that in the bowl as long as you like – overnight if needed – whilst you fry off smoked bacon lardons in a frying pan. Once done, drain on kitchen paper. Finally, make a cheesy béchamel sauce by simply melting butter in a pan, stirring plain flour into it until it becomes thick, and then again adding milk slowly until a rich silky béchamel is formed. To this, add a generous grating of strong cheddar cheese, and a small dollop of English mustard.
Heat your grill. Assemble the pancakes and then add more strong cheddar on top, and briefly grill. When everything is melty, you’re good to go. Like I said, don’t overestimate this – it’s a rich, rich dish.
Beer-wise, you want something malty and strong to go with the smokiness of the meat and creaminess of the cheese. Quantock’s Royal Stag (6%abv) is a good choice; plenty of firm, nutty, biscuity malt and sweetness in the body, finished with a medium-dry, floral finish. This dark-amber beer is robust enough to cope with all the flavour of the cheese and Pancake, yet drying enough to cleanse the palate.
A suitably unfussy beer for an unfussy snack.
Ok, here’s my second German-inspired meal of the week; and it represented a personal triumph. You see, I love Schnitzel. Some write it off as a greasy mess made with poor quality meat but I love it. More’s the pity I’ve never tried it in Germany – but I’ve been trying to make a version I’ve been happy with at home. But the Pork has always come out too dry, or the breadcrumbs burned. Home-made breadcrumbs – I find- just aren’t the same. They soak up too much oil.
Anyway, I hit the jackpot by simply scaling it down. Rather than using a battered-out Pork Steak, I bought a Pork Tenderloin, and sliced that into medallions. Give it a bash- just one, or you’ll destroy it – then dredge in plain flour seasoned with Salt, Pepper and a little Paprika. Then, dip your floured meat into a beaten egg, then roll in Breadcrumbs – those bright orange, mass-made ones – you know the kind.
Turn your oven on to about 100c – and then heat your oil. Shallow fry the Schnitzels for about a minute. They won’t take long at all, and you’ll know from the colour when they are burning. When done, drain on paper and then put in the oven for 2-3 minutes just to get rid of any more excess oil.
Wonderful – by exposing the Schnitzel to a quick, hot fry it cooks perfectly without burning. Serve with Lemon wedges (I love Lemon with Schnitzel) and, of course, beer. We had an array of Kolsch and Weizens at our elbows, but found the dry, sweet Kuppers Kolsch (4.8%abv)to be perfect with this porky morsels.
Another little side dish we knocked up was based on Himmel Und Erde, which translates as ‘Heaven and Earth. Essentially Potato mashed with Apple Puree, we switched the Apples for Pears and made it into more of a hash, with a little crunch.
All you need to do is make a batch of Mashed Potato (one large potato per person); and season it well with Salt, Pepper, Cream and Butter. Leave it to cool – this will make it a little firmer to handle. Take a small tin of Pears (which will be much sweeter and softer than fresh) and slice 3-4 Pears up as fine as you can, then add to the mash.
Heat some oil in a thick-bottomed pan, then with floured hands, scoop up some mash and shape into a loose patty. Dust with flour, then lay in the pan. Once the bottom has crisped, flip (quickly!) with a Spatula and do the other side. What you get is a crispy, creamy, sweet bed for a slice of crispy Black Pudding and Fried Onions. Sweet and intensely savoury, I can understand why this comfort food is popular in the colder months.
We found the sweeetness and slightly sour, clovey finish of Erdinger’s Urweiss (4.9%abv) to be a perfect counterfoil to the fruit and gentle spiciness of the Black Pudding.
All in all, a fun and hearty meal with a nod to our Germanic neighbours. Now, go and try it out! One resource that was invaluable when researching this set of posts was Culinaria Germany by Christine Metzger. I’ve had it a while now, and it’s fantastic – a region-by-region roundup of the Culture that the food comes from, plenty of notes on Beer and Beerhalls, and explanations of Traditions. It’s much more than a cookbook and, like I say, one not to miss if you’re interested in German culture. I was also greatly amused and inspired by Boak & Bailey’s quest for perfect Schnitzel earlier in the year. Wonderful reading, as always.
It’s with great shame that I admit I’d never heard of The Watermill until coming across it in Adrian Tierney-Jones’ wonderful book, Great British Pubs. What’s this? I stuttered. An Inn that brews its own beer? And it’s massively dog-friendly? And a mere two miles from Stavely, home of Hawkshead Brewery?
It couldn’t have been more tailor-made for me unless it was in Stavely itself. So, bookings were made, Wilson’s overnight bag arranged (kibble, waterbowl, retractable lead, copy of Modern Dog magazine, that sort of thing) and off we went, meandering up through Ilkley, Skipton Kirkby Lonsdale and finally arriving in Ings, home of The Watermill.
More on that later. first up, Hawkshead Brewery. A visit that I’d been hankering after reading Nick’s excellent dispatches and, more recently, Phil’s experience of their summer festival. Despite just being after 12 when we arrived, hungry wife and panting Border Terrier in tow and salivating at the thought of super-fresh Windermere Pale, the place was filling up nicely with a good mix of people; two elderly ladies sharing a pork pie platter and glasses of stout, the obligatory coach visit of CAMRA types (the brewery t-shirts and relaxed attitude to ponytails giving the game away) and a couple of families. The tap itself is large, airy and light, and the staff are certainly attentive.
It took me a while to formulate the beer order though; there was just so much. Windermere Pale, Drystone Stout, USPA, NZPA, Red, Gold, Lakeland Lager…in the end it was a toss-up between Windy Pale (one of those beers I just can’t pass up – ever) and Drystone Stout for me; the Drystone being particularly impressive this time. Smooth, sweet, and heavy on the woody, bramble-fruit notes, it disappeared in about four gulps and proved the perfect foil to our cheeseboard and Scotch Egg lunch (thanks Nick, you were right about the eggs).
It’s only when standing in front of Hawkshead’s range that you realise that they’ve absolutely nailed the ‘Brewery for all seasons‘ angle. Whether it’s the comforting maltiness of Best or Red that you’re craving, or the hop-hits of USPA, NZPA that’s driving you, there’s something for everyone. Lakeland Lager and Gold couldn’t be more refreshing in the close heat, but if it’s colder then the autumnal, rich Brodie’s Prime is your man. It’s a modern tap, alright – wood and chrome and leather-backed chairs – but it’s one that you’d be daft to miss out on visiting if close by.
Our lodgings, The Watermill Inn, also has a decent reputation in doing things just right with a minimum of fuss. Our room was huge, frankly, and the place maintained a busy buzz in the deceptively large bar area most of the day. Of course, the main attraction is the brewery (see the website for the story behind the kit) and the incredibly dog-friendly attitude of the Inn; all the beers – which sees up to 6 or 7 on the bars at any time – are dog-themed, and well-brewed. Over the course of the evening I sampled a fair few of them, with the Blonde being my personal favourite; a light, airy pint with a super-dry finish doused with Lemon and Lime. The dark mild, Blackbeard, was another highlight later in the evening.
As the night drew in, the pub filled with walkers, guests and drinkers, 80% of them with a four-legged friend in tow. Our food was good and hearty – my Fish and Chips was amongst the best I’ve had in a pub; a huge, succulent fish, thick, crispy beer batter, sitting on a bed of mushy peas and home-made chips. The menu is simple but tasty and reasonable in price, and there is a bar for non-dog lovers.
Those that know me know that I’m not one for striking up conversations with random people – even in bars – unless pushed, but the thing about owning a dog is that you automatically find common ground; especially so if both parties are holding frothing pints of beer brewed all of 15 feet away. Still being warm, we moved to the tables outside, nestled next to a meandering stream, chatted to every punter that passed, met dog after dog after dog, and generally had a great time. Faith in the human race was restored, and we’re already planning our next visit.
We retired to bed happy and full. What more can you ask? A great British Pub, indeed.