Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
Last month I was invited by the kind people at Meantime Brewery to attend a beer and food matching dinner at The Old Brewery, which is their brewery tap inside the beautiful grounds of the Royal Naval College in Greenwich. The evening was co-hosted by Alistair Hook, owner and master brewer at Meantime and well respected beer writer Pete Brown and would be featuring a selection of British inspired cuisine paired with some classic and some very modern beers. I was also asked if I would like to bring a guest so I dragged my long suffering girlfriend Dianne along with me, Di claims she doesn't like beer but that's not true because she loves fruit Lambics and I've witnessed her throwing down pints of Brooklyn lager and laughing manically with joy on a Friday night.
We arrive at the Old Brewery and make our way to the restaurant, we're a few minutes late and Pete is already in full swing regaling the crowd with tales from his time in advertising. We were soon ushered to our table and the first two beers were brought over to us, the first was Meantime's Pilsner, a crisp, zesty and slightly herbal aperitif to kick the evening into gear. We're then presented with a glass of Timothy Taylor's timeless British bitter, Landlord. Pete starts waxing lyrical about how this is probably the bitter that got him into bitter and my mind drifts back some ten years ago to drinking pints of Landlord with my Dad at the Bottle and Glass in Scothern, Lincolnshire where I grew up. It may well be the bitter that converted me into a bitter drinker too, even Dianne found it's robust, yet drinkable bitterness enjoyable.
They started to bring out the first course, smoked eel with a carrot and beetroot salad and a horseradish cream. Before the food arrived the beer that it was to be matched with was delivered, Hobsons Mild which was deliciously drinkable and had mellow notes of chocolate and hazelnuts on the nose and produced delicate flavours of raisins and a little roasted coffee. The eel was the food highlight of the evening for me, rich smokey flavours mingled with the delicate heat from the creamy horseradish, it was delicious. Pete explained how the mild would help cut through the fatty fish and this it certainly did but the smokey flavour overwhelmed the delicate flavours in the beer and after a few mouthfuls the mild had become very mute indeed. I would have personally chosen something like Thornbridge Tzara, a Kölsch style beer to go with this dish as I think that the floral, fruity quality of this beer would have complimented this strongly flavoured dish better and the extra carbonation would have cut through the rich, fatty fish.
The main course was a fantastically huge plateful of beef wellington with an ale gravy and a massive slab of welsh potato cake, it was far too much food for one person but the beef was so beautifully cooked that I just couldn't stop eating it. The beer Pete chose to go with this dish was the wonderful Redchurch Great Eastern IPA and I couldn't have chosen this pairing better myself. While Pete talks to the diners about the history of IPA, and you can tell from his enthusiasm the passion he has for this subject, I let the bitter grapefruit and tropical mango flavours mingle with the rich beef, it's a heavenly combination.
I'm stuffed after this dish and I'm not quite sure how I'm going to manage a pudding and a cheese course but in the spirit of the evening I soldier on. As they bring out the next beer, Meantime's London Porter, Pete says something that baffles me and that I strongly disagree with; "Craft beer is about two styles of beer, IPA and Porter." Sure, these are two styles that are steeped in history and we wouldn't be where we are today without them but for me craft beer is about innovation, pushing the envelope and striving to create something that's always better than just 'good'. It's about 100% Brettanomyces fermented hefeweizens, IPA brewed with fresh blood oranges and imperial porters aged in Tempranillo barrels for a year with a load of grape must and that's just for starters. Craft beer should encompass each and every style of beer and still leave room for those that haven't even been conceived yet. Of course this isn't just what craft beer is about, but let's not get into that now, or ever, if I can help it.
That said the apple pie with custard and vanilla ice cream we're served pairs beautifully with the London porter, the sweetness of the pudding is balanced nicely by the bitter roasted coffee and dark chocolate notes this beer produces and the slight astringency balances out the sweetness of the dessert. This leads us nicely on to the cheese course which Pete has paired with St. Bernardus Pater 6 which is a solid Belgian Tripel. Cheese and Belgian beer, you can't really go wrong with this and the only complaint from me at this point is that I'm so full that I have to avoid the crackers entirely and practically have to force myself to eat the selection of British cheeses in front of me, the things I do for this blog, eh?
The evening is nicely rounded of with a welcome digestif of Kernel Export Stout, it's full of coffee, a hint of molasses and has an almost pine sap bitterness in the finish. It's been a thoroughly enjoyable evening and despite me disagreeing with one pairing and that one bold statement I feel like my beer knowledge is richer for it and I'm also a little bit pissed as at no point did the beer cease to flow. It was good to see that Dianne enjoyed herself too, she probably found the beer talk a little bit boring as it's in no way relevant to her interests but the food and drink was good enough to keep even the non beer geeks present satisfied, recommended.
The Old Brewery has a beer and food night with a guest speaker once a month and tickets are sold in advance usually at around £50.00 per head. You can book a table on their website here.