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The quest for the perfect beer

Archive for June 2012

Sunday lunch at BBC Radio Oxford – something for the beer and foodies

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Bill Buckley – My on air lunch time companion

About once a month I get the chance to have a very nice lunch with BBC Radio Oxford presenter Bill Buckley.

For one hour live on radio, we munch, crunch, sip and swirl our ways through a variety of beers and foods on his Sunday Lunch show.

Bill is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable foodie, so it is always a challenge to come up with something different with which to challenge his experienced taste buds.

So for this Sunday’s show (24 June) my menu is:

Erdinger Wheat Beer http://www.erdinger.de/en/erdinger-weissbier-company/brewery.html paired with a sweet pickled herring. I did consider a more intense wheat beer, which would be even fuller of banana, phenolic and medicinal flavours but have decided to play safe.

Next comes a Ridgeway Bad King John – English Black Ale – brewed by one of Britain’s most creative masters of the malt and hops Peter Scholey. This will dance on the palate in a duet with some Marksbury Cheddar, bought from Oxford Cheese Company’s stall in Oxford’s Covered Market. Marksbury is a traditional cloth wrapped cheddar, made on a farm in Somerset and matured for at least 18 months and up to 24 months. Full of sharp tangy mustard notes, it is a foot stomping rock and roll, strong tasting cheese which when paired with the dark beer is as exhilarating as Alabama Shakes singer Brittany Howard and bassist Zack Cockrell letting loose with the BBC Radio Six favourite Hold On.

This is followed by Wadworth’s Beer Kitchen Orange Peel, http://www.wadworthbeerkitchen.co.uk/orange_peel_beer.php which is paired with a Gressinghasm Duck breast. http://www.gressinghamduck.co.uk/duck, which I will have to cook tomorrow morning. Duck is such wonderful meat. Why is duck so unused in this country? It is so lean, full of flavour, versatile and deserves to have a wider audience than just fans of Chinese takeaways. The Orange Peel beer is a perfect companion to the duck. Its sweetness comes from the Munich malt and the spellbinding rhythms of the American hops – Cascade, Willamette and Citra – which are underpinned by the zesty, tongue tingling intensity of natural dried orange peel.

And for the finale? Guinness Extra Foreign Stout, the beer is a classic, which deserves a wider audience. I thought of pairing it with spicy chorizo or even some chili flavoured chicken. Both would work, instead, I have decided on some homemade raspberry ice cream. I am hoping the vanilla and mocha notes in the beer will work well with the sweetness of the raspberries. Just got to go and make the ice cream.


Written by timhampson

June 23, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Dave Wickett remembered – An extraordinary pub owner and brewer

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Dave Wickett loved to tell the story of how he bought his first pub in 1981, the same year that the pubco J D Wetherspoon was founded. Thirty-one years on Dave still had one pub in the UK, and “Spoons” has more than 830, but arguably his influence and legacy are the most profound.

When he bought the closed Alma pub much of Sheffield was rusted to the core. Its heavy industry was in decline, the town’s once proud brewing heritage was already showing signs of structural failure and many of its pubs were neglected and offered little choice to customers, especially one who was a vegetarian.

As an economics lecturer he was determined to put his business principles into practice. He wanted to see the pub operate as a true free house. It should offer a wide selection of changing real ales and have a simple food menu, diverse enough to satisfy everyone from the ardent carnivore through to a committed vegan.

News of his venture spread far and wide and on the day the pub reopened as the Fat Cat, he was astounded to find a queue of people outside waiting for the door to be unlocked. One of the first beers on sale was Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, from its seemingly faraway homeland in Keighley, West Yorkshire. At first the brewer wouldn’t deliver to the pub as it was outside its trading area, so Dave had to go and collect the first 18 gallon barrel. The brewery changed its mind, when a few days later he rang to order three more as the first had already sold out.

Though, Dave did say that not everyone was happy with Landlord being served. On opening day, one customer called him outside the crowded pub and proceeded to pour a pint of Landlord into the gutter saying he only drank beer brewed in Sheffield. In 1990 Dave took another significant step in opening the Kelham Island Brewery in a brick shed behind the pub. The disgruntled first day customer who had poured his beer away might have had a smile on his face that day. For some time there had been no other brewers in Sheffield. Bass, Whitbread and Wards once bastions of the Sheffield brewing industry had shut in the intervening years since the Cat had opened. Dave had restored the tradition of brewing to the steel city.

A long-time member and supporter of the British Guild of Beer Writers, Dave, when on one of our trips to a brewery would often buy a firkin or two of beer for sale at the Cat. He also, brewed, at the behest of guild member Sue Novak, a Saffron flavoured beer for drinking at one of our awards’ dinners. He regarded it as one of the finest beers his brewery had ever produced. Though he did once concede, because of the cost of the spice, it was probably his most expensive.

The last time I saw Dave was a few weeks ago in Sheffield. He was due to hand over a cheque for £6,000 to the Cornwall Hospice Care. The money had been raised when Sharp’s head brewer Stuart Howe decided to brew a beer called honouring Dave. Stuart was inspired to brew the beer when last year, Dave’s son Ed was on work experience at Sharp’s in Rock Cornwall. Stuart learned that Dave was battling bone cancer and he decided to brew a special beer, DW, with the proceeds going to a charity of Dave’s choice. In a typical display of his abundant altruism Dave said he wanted any funds raised to go to a charity local to Sharp’s rather than one in Sheffield. Sadly he felt too poorly to attend the event, but Stuart and I went to see him in his home. Despite his obvious illness, his mind blazed with optimism and ideas for future projects.

Dave’s enthusiasm for beer and brewing had also seen him help setup a bar in New York State, the Thornbridge and Welbeck breweries, a course on brewing at Sheffield University and numerous other ventures. Today, the Fat Cat is still busy. It is still selling a wide range of real ales, more than 7,000 since it opened and it still has a food menu which should satisfy all. While, the Kelham Island Brewery has provided the inspiration and training for a generation of brewers who have gone on to found their own breweries not just in Sheffield but around the world. That’s quite a legacy.

I have a bottle of the DW beer which was brewed by Stuart Howe. The unfiltered and bottle conditioned beer at 9.5 per cent ABV brew is late hopped with Hallertauer Northern Brewer, Perle, Willamette and Cascade, it is then dry hopped with Amarillio. Perhaps it is the time to open it and say cheers to a great man.

Pictured: Dave Wickett receiving a life time achievement award from Nigel Evans of the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group.

David Mark Wickett, brewer, born 24 May 1947; died 16 May 2012

Written by timhampson

June 7, 2012 at 4:13 pm