Great Cheeses of The Far North Of France

Fromages_du_Nord_2181_2012-03-23_14562I have discussed aspects of the cookery of the French Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, the Franco-Flemish enclave contiguous with Belgium extending to the coast across from Dover, with an emphasis on its beer dishes. Some of its cheeses should be mentioned due to their distinctive qualities and connection to the area’s beer culture.

Beer pairs uncommonly well with these cheeses, and also, is sometimes used to mature cheese in the north – is brushed on the rind –  and even enters the paste in some products.

Maroilles is a cow’s milk cheese made for 1000 years or more in the green and sometimes valleyed Avesnois district. It is fairly pungent and comes in a square, reddish block. With time the paste softens to a powerful, almost semi-liquid richness. Some producers still use raw milk or milk heated to a low temperature (thermisé), which improves the quality.

Maroilles is eaten with beer in its home territory, appears after dinner with coffee, and also is used in the famed tarte au maroilles of the region, a cheese pie of great savour and rustic quality. I have eaten it in the area, indeed in bucolic Maroilles once, the hamlet which gave its name to the cheese. The image below of calm waters near a green-fringed, venerable mill is from Maroilles.

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In the image of cheeses above (see note below for attribution and license details), one can see the name “Jenlain” on the Maroilles. This means, I am quite sure, that well-regarded Jenlain, an artisan-style beer, was used to mature the cheese.

Pelforth Blonde is a classic blonde ale from Lille which has a large sale in the north and is not unknown in Paris. It accompanies well all cheeses of the region.

Also on the cheese plate is a mimolette, in this case a well-aged one. It is the orange, scimitar-shaped slice. “Mimo”, as the nickname goes in the area, has a double aspect. When young it is fruity and a little rubbery, kind of a cross between a young red cheddar and an Edam. When well-aged, it dries to a salty, still fruity intensity. The history is not that old – a theme which recurs in French regional food, as the reader will have gleaned by now. Edam used to come down to Lille from The Netherlands, and after all part of the French north was in South Holland at one time and shares many of its food and drink habits.

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The first world war (1914-1918) interrupted supply, so the French started to make their own version, of which mimo was the result. Mi-molle, or half soft (when young) is the origin of the word mimolette. This cheese from the beginning had a more or less industrial aspect, which hasn’t prevented its appreciation by cheese fanciers everywhere. Today it is a well-established specialty of the Nord. You can get it in Toronto, usually when well-aged, but the young one comes in too sometimes.

Last year I bought both mimo and Maroilles at the Loblaws cheese counter across the street from my place.

The third cheese in the image is the boulette d’AvesnesMaroilles not deemed perfect for the market, and immature (white) Maroilles, are mashed up with pepper and herbs – parsley, tarragon – and maybe a little beer or genièvre, the Dutch-style gin popular in the area. The paste is formed by hand into a ball or cone-shape and coated with paprika which helps form a crust. The balls may be washed with beer as well in maturation. This is a local classic with a vigorous taste. When very aged, it, as well as similar preparations in the north, can attain an ammoniacal intensity that spells terroir with a capital “t”.

I may review soon some of the other cheeses of the French north.

Note re images: the first image, by 5esouts, called Fromages du Nord, appears courtesy Wikipedia Commons under this free documentation license. It was sourced here. The second and third images are in the public domain and were sourced from Wikipedia, here and here. All are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

A Classic Dish of Cabbage And Beer From The French North Country

OF CABBAGES FIT FOR A KING

IMG_20160419_081017-1024x1024There are numerous cabbage dishes in the mid-northern belt of Europe, made a variety of ways depending on the region, although certain patterns emerge.

The area around Lille, in the far north of France (Nord-Pas-de-Calais), has a way with red cabbage that is particularly good. Even there of course it has variants, but the recipe in its purest form is contained in the 1990 book pictured, Flandre Cuisine Recettes et Traditions, edited by Michel Loosen and published by Foyer Culturel de l’Houtland.

The Foyer is a group based in Steenvoorde which promotes the cultural heritage of French Flanders. The book is amongst many published by this group covering a broad range of historical and other topics of culture or heritage.

The book is unique in my experience in that it contains not just many valuable recipes of this border region of France where a dialect of Flemish is still spoken, but also drawings, proverbs, songs, depictions of costumes, and other elements of folklore.

It is in French except for certain proverbs and songs, but even then most are translated into French. Many proverbs have a rueful, quotidian quality: “H’n is gevallen met zyn gat in de butter – Il est tombé assis dans le beurre“. Thus, he fell into the butter right-side up: he was lucky. 🙂

The book can be purchased online and I encourage those interested in this little-known part of France to buy it to get a real sense of what life was like traditionally there, perhaps still is. Here is one source to obtain it.

The recipe in the book is very simple. It is red cabbage, onions, butter, beer, brown sugar, salt, pepper – that’s it. Variants in other books and online sometimes include apple, or juniper berry, or nutmeg or that kind of spice. Sometimes vinegar is advised with the beer, or on its own. Red currant jelly is sometimes suggested too, in lieu of the sugar. Some sweetening is necessary to the dish, it is by nature a sweet and sour preparation and is a survival of medieval times when this combination was well-liked.

IMG_20160419_081352I have found that the recipe shown is the best one – the flavours emerge purely but well-melded. The dish needs long cooking, three hours is advised. Cabbage is one of those things you must cook for a short time or a very long time, but with beer or other alcohol, the long method is necessary IMO.

The recipe is so straightforward that even with basic French anyone can easily follow it, but if anyone asks I will give some English directions.

French Flanders has numerous ways with cabbage both red and white, some use red wine, some white, some use stock or water or a combination. The beer-and-red cabbage one seems particularly associated with Lille, the chief city of the region, hence the name Chou-Rouge A La Lilloise, or Red Cabbage Lille-style.

Although I have said here you can use any beer in cooking, with this dish I find a flavourful blonde beer is best. Any good, all-malt lager would work well. But in a pinch, use anything you have, certainly, it will never be bad.

Jane Grigson’s Recipe For Boston-Style Beans, With Duck And Beer

BeanpotsI suggested yesterday Jane Grigson probably had little interest in cooking with beer. Today, I will mention two recipes where she did use it, excluding Welsh Rabbit-type dishes or beer in batter, which are stereotypical. In her Fish Cookery (1975), she gives a recipe for carp with beer, mentioning the Polish, German and Christmas associations with this dish.

The recipe is similar to those found elsewhere with its sweet-sour, fruity sauce. A honeyed spice cake figures in the recipe, a counterpart to the Flemish use of crumbled gingerbread with some beer dishes. Grigson was a proponent of using carp in general but preferred to cook it simply outdoors, in foil over charcoal with a splash of white wine and herbs. For this she advises to get a wild one which runs through good fresh water, to avoid the muddy taste (or you can soak the fish first).

The English food writer Mary Norwak, in a book on country cookery in the 70s, suggested ginger, included in Grigson`s carp-and-beer, as the defining spice for a pork roast coated in flour and bathed with beer. All over the northern belt of Europe, one notes such constant associations in the cooking.

The regions were much less hermetic than is often thought in this way. You can apply a similar analysis when looking at the alcoholic spirits in these areas – and the beer of course.

Grigson`s other recipe with beer I’ve found is in Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book (1978). It is baked beans with molasses, sugar, duck, ginger again, and some other interesting elements. It happens to be online and you can view it at p. 87, here.

Roger+Daltrey++3As she explains, it is from a book by American food author Evan Jones, whose mother had given him the recipe. She was a Canadian, of Welsh ancestry according to the New York Times obituary of Jones. She had lived in the Maritimes and ended in Minnesota where she married Jones’ father. I’d guess she had moved to Manitoba or Alberta first, a common migration pattern at the time, and then south to the U.S. Evan Jones was a noted authority on traditional American cooking, he died about 20 years ago.

Grigson explains that his recipe has a decided sweet element which links it to Boston baked beans and distances it from the French cassoulet. This makes sense as Boston beans, the signature of which is molasses, was known through New England and into the Maritime provinces in Canada. The New England states shared much with Nova Scotia and the other Maritime provinces due to a common coastal and trading culture and similar ethnic origins (Protestant English or other British).

Now, why would Grigson include this in her book? First, because the book didn’t deal only with British ways with vegetables, but also I think to establish a link with the old English dish of bacon and beans. The very English writer Elizabeth Ayrton had a recipe for beans and bacon in her The Cookery Of England (1974). She even calls for molasses and dry mustard, hallmarks of the American dish, yet makes no reference to Boston, New England or America. There is a good reason: the dish is English in origin, as so many dishes connected to New England.

There is a story of an English king visiting one of the Royal Docks, I believe at Woolwich, and sharing with the men their beans and bacon. And numerous older English cookery sources give a recipe for it, or the similar beans with salt pork (or peas with bacon or pork). They don`t refer to any American inspiration. In the early days, Britain gave lessons to the Colonies on cookery, not the other way around.

The pilgrims surely brought it to America, ditto the doughnut and many other foods considered quintessentially American.

Some may consider New England innovated by adding molasses. Given the basis of the dish, bacon and beans, goes back many hundreds of years in Britain and the sugar and molasses trade concerned Britain no less than its possessions in North America, I would doubt New Englanders liked the dish with molasses and no one in England did. The standard English way since the 1700s seems to have been with parsley and butter, but I haven`t checked exhaustively and would wager some people in Britain added a touch of molasses or other sugar if they had it. Otherwise, it doesn`t make sense Elizabeth Ayrton – a very knowledgeable authority on the history of English food – would call for it without making further comment.

In modern times, beans and bacon has faded from the British repertoire, at least as a set piece, while the Americans have kept it going. Both Ayrton and Grigson help us to remember its English roots. Interestingly, Ayrton advises to use half cider and half water if liked: this brings Jones’ and Grigson’s recipe even closer to England, as beer and cider are suggested as alternate mediums for numerous English dishes.

Readers who airily dismiss any idea of long-simmered pork and beans as English might reflect on the enduring popularity of tinned beans in England. Beans and toast, a popular quick meal and long associated with those of modest means, is an example. To the retort, no one eats it anymore, first I doubt that, second, how about the essential place beans has in the cooked U.K. breakfast, indeed with the … bacon invariably nearby? The folk memory retains very old associations, and perpetuates them in forms which a little thought can easily penetrate to their core.

And all brands of canned beans have sugar, I’m quite sure, some just more than others…

So it’s all related and it all ties in.

A last – or for now – association in Jane Grigson`s work with beer, albeit indirect: in the vegetable book, she has two pages on cooking hop shoots. She discusses the different ways they can be harvested and how to spot them in the country, even outside the hop gardens that is.

I can tell that she enjoyed a glass of beer, at least with certain dishes – she mentions its suitability with Alsatian sauerkraut, for example – but remain convinced beer was not a standby for her in the kitchen.

Note re images: the first image, of a bean pot typical of New England, is in the public domain, and was sourced here. The second image, of Roger Daltrey of The Who, was sourced from a news article on the rock star, hereA similar photo appeared on The Who`s 1967 album, The Who Sell Out. Both images are believed available for educational and historical use. All feedback welcomed.

Jane Grigson, English Food, English Beer

IMG_20160417_091018I’ve mentioned Jane Grigson (1928-1990) a few times as a premier English food writer of the post-war era. She was raised in County Durham, Oxbridge-trained, and was married to the poet Geoffrey Grigson. They were one of the intellectual power couples of their time, but of a more retiring, cerebral sort than is common today I think.

Grigson (nee McIntire) wrote books on English foods, on vegetables, French pork cookery, fish, Italian food, and other areas. She had a good publisher and was followed by a loyal coterie of thinking cooks. Many were busy householders but with the interest to know that little bit more about food – its historical and cultural aspects in particular – than those who simply want reliable recipes or to try new foods.

Jane Grigson’s like must still exist today – I hope so at any rate – even in the age of celebrity chefs such as Nigella Lawson and Jaime Oliver. Perhaps I just don’t know the names as well as 20 years ago. In North America, Jehane Benoit and Julia Child, as well as James Beard and others, were her contemporaries although not quite the same I think, more popularizers and explicators. Grigson was that but more, she was a writer whose erudition spoke through all her work while retaining a practical, straightforward bent from her north-east background.

Last year in The Observer a fine appreciation of her work appeared, which should be read by anyone interested in the British Isles and culinary matters. As the writer explained, Grigson foresaw modern trends such as the return of farmers markets, the emphasis on traditional products and breeds, reducing processing where possible, and an appreciation of Britain’s often-misunderstood culinary history.

The fashion in recent years for serving beef cheek, say, and board charcuterie and that kind of thing, was something she promoted when these foods were at best little understood or regarded as primitive survivals.

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Her 1984 The Observer Guide To Regional British Food was written with Derek Cooper, he did the parts on drinks, mainly beer but also cider and whisky. They searched out the traditional products of the regions especially unusual ones or those rescued from history. This meant the fish cures, seafoods, hams, lamb dishes, breads, poultry, cakes, vegetables, salts and herbs, and local beers or ciders. The book is illustrated with excellent photos and is written with great knowledge and passion. Her trademark scholarly approach is evident but it informs, even entertains, rather than fatigues.

Many surprises are revealed by her knowledge. At one time in the West Country, garlic was valued by the local people. She offers a dish of veal with garlic and saffron, another old West Country favourite, from the famed Devon hotel, the Horn of Plenty, to reflect this old tradition. It puts paid to the notion the British always disdained garlic.

A theme is the relative insouciance of the British to preserving and valuing the best of their culinary heritage. Of York ham, she explains it was originally smoked from the shavings of the carpentry required to build the Minster of York cathedral, and writes:

Certainly York does not bother much about its hams, not in the way a French town would with posters everywhere and a series of placards at the town boundary – “Bienvenue à York – sa cathédrale – ses jambons – ses Yorkshire poundings – ses Yorkshire pies de Noël”. What a dreary impious lot we are, no sense of fun, no pride! In fact you have to hunt down Scott’s, which is quite near the Minster, before you can find anyone who knows what you are talking about.

 

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Sadly, Scott’s closed in 2008, this press report explained why. What was lost was precisely what Grigson was trying to arrest.

Of the black-skinned Bradenham ham, she notes it originated in Bradenham Park, Buckinghamshire, where Benjamin Disraeli once had a home. She muses, “I cannot imagine he had much to do with its development”. Pointing to where Jewish Britons contributed to the quality of national cuisine, she lauds the Jewish way with salt beef in East London.

To wit, she mentions “Gold’s in Baker Street, near the Classic cinemawhich reached a high, and consistent, standard. Who knows if it still exists – certainly the theatre is gone. Then too, newer traditions will always enrich the London scene. If Grigson was writing today she would include them no less.

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Grigson notes tartly that someone once observed “traditional” means something at least 15 years old. She would have understood, for example, that the French regional repertoire is largely a recent or at least relative concept. One can see this in British Cookery, as she explains what one ate was partly a result of one’s means and class but also how one’s mother cooked – it differed with each family especially before recipes were written down and widely disseminated.

Her description of the food of “great houses”, where gentry and aristocracy resided, is revealing, yet so is her discussion of Lancashire tripe, which she liked – one variety of it is mentioned for its “chickeny” flavour. In this, her contemporary William Fowler disagreed, thinking tripe tasteless: he fed it to the minks on his farm!

To be sure an area has its ingredients which arose from local soils, gardens, waters, livestock, husbandry, but these were combined often in more ways than appear from recipe books. She therefore reminds us of the individualistic side of cookery, that a regional guide is not a code.

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This has assisted my thinking on English beer cookery. If the available sources seem to suggest it had limited application in English food history, well that only goes so far. Some families may have used beer more than others. Perhaps they just liked it or had worked out a way to get particularly good results. In my three part discussion of beer in English cookery recently, I discussed how William Fowler used beer in numerous dishes, and no one was more English than he. Anyhow, if foods are characteristic of a region and you feel you can combine them to good advantage, go ahead: the recipes in her book are illustrations, not a set of bound rules, is her message.

Beer Et Seq’s interest in dishes cooked with beer isn’t, in fact, met by Jane Grigson’s own work, which includes only a few such recipes: Gloucester Cheese and Ale (like Welsh Rabbit), beer in Christmas cake, and the Sussex Stewed Steak dish which she explains is from Elizabeth David. She does offer a porter cake from Ireland, which sounds very good. Her other writings on English food, those of which I am aware, disclose a similar lack of interest in this area. She does like cider in some dishes though, and gives a few recipes. I think she probably didn’t like the taste of beer in food, and fair enough.

Of the fine northern eating that characterized the families of the rich “cloth towns”, she writes:

[It] began, I suppose, with the Cistercians who swarmed all over Europe in the first half of the twelth century with an intensity of agriculture. They settled their communities with an eye for sweetness of site and efficiency of operation that makes the ruins they left behind a pleasure to visit.

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She contrasts to the northern tradition – the best of it – the “impoverished state of public food”, the relatively low standard of publicly available food in Britain (restaurants, cafes, markets) compared certainly to France in the same period. Has anything changed in Britain in 30 years regarding her point that the British need to understand better their culinary history, to offer a better average standard of food?

I can’t really say, perhaps readers in Britain would offer their opinion. Some things surely have changed for the better and I’ve seen some evidence of it myself, e.g., Borough Market in London, the gastropub (which London invented), and the proliferation of snout-to-tail and “market” restaurants focusing on seasonal products. However, there is such a continual interest in foreign foods that I wonder if Britain’s own culinary legacy is still too often overlooked.

Beer is an area I know better, and there I’d say the English have “looked back” with great interest and passion. Since the 70s, they have ensured notably the survival of cask ale – along with welcoming foreign innovation, notably U.S.-style craft beer. It may be that the gustatory passion of the British is most expressive for fine drinks, not least their own beer, whisky, cider, and some of the wine being grown there now.

And that’s fine, the contributions of the British to the realm of drink are legion and internationally acknowledged. If English and other British food never rose to the heights of neighbouring France, there is the consolation of the great English writing on food and food history, not least by Jane Grigson.

Note for all images above save the first: the second, a 13th century recipe from a manuscript, was sourced here. The third, from the news story on Scott’s linked above, here. The fourth, a Suffolk black ham, here. The  fifth, here and the last, laverbread and toast, here.  All are believed available for educational and historical use. All feedback welcomed.

Thoughts On Goose Island IPA

IMG_20160416_090751I had the draft as available in Canada a few years ago when I’m fairly sure it was imported.

Goose Island is now brewed at different Labatt plants including the London, ON plant. I’ve had the lower-gravity Honker’s Ale as brewed here but not, to my recollection, the IPA, so I opened a can last night to test it out.

It was a chance to see if a classic craft beer had “changed” under the aegis of the mega firm, AB-In Bev, which has owned it for about five years.

I visited the original brewpub in Chicago many years ago and tried the IPA and other beers in the range. First, I never thought they were outstanding beers. The flagships, including the IPA, were the best, but you have to like the aggressive, edgy interpretation Goose Island places on American pale ale viewed broadly. (I.e., there is no firm dividing line between pale ale and IPA just as there never was in the England, it’s more a continuum with deviations here and there).

Numerous hops are used in the brewing, and they weigh in with citric and bitter force. Styrian Goldings are included, a European variety at least originally, but most of the hops are New World types as one would expect of the style, such as Centennial and Cascade. As poured from the can, the beer is somewhat turbid, which doesn’t mean it isn’t pasteurized; I’d guess it is but can’t be sure. The taste is full yet on the dry side, and it reminded me quite a bit of Grant’s India Pale Ale, the first American beer to use the India Pale designation in modern times (early 90s). I’d infer it had an influence on the Hall family, founders of Goose Island.

Check out especially early reviews on Beer Advocate of Grant’s India Pale Ale. There are a number of parallels to Goose Island IPA, particularly with adjectives such as harsh, astringent, herbal. (Bear in mind these are compliments for a certain style of IPA).

Goose Island IPA has every marker of a craft beer – visual look, nose, lavish hops and cereals taste – and is very similar to what I recall tasting in Chicago and elsewhere when Goose Island was brewed only there.

It’s a very credible example of American IPA, indeed a classic type given the probable influence by the first generation of modern American IPA. Bert Grant amped up and dried down American Pale Ale but used the same type of hop approach. I tend to prefer a sweeter IPA and one with a more refined hops character, but that’s subjective. Goose Island IPA represents a defined style of IPA with its lemon verbena, almost sage-like intensity. It has won the awards it advertises for a reason, but the taste, as with any beer, will not appeal to all.

Generally I don’t care meticulously to pair beers with food – drink the beer you like with the food you like. In this case, I can see the company’s point that the beer goes well with blue cheese and curried dishes. Sometimes a strongly flavoured beer is right with very spicy or strong-tasting foods, not just to stand up to them, but so you still taste the beer after starting on the dish.

My verdict: it’s the beer it always was, the Labatt plants haven’t changed it or not significantly. The choice to buy it should be based on the kind of beer it is, nothing more.

 

It’s Bock Beer Season!

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Rock The Bock

In the days before the craft beer revival, bock beer was important for those who took an out-of-the-ordinary interest in beer. Around springtime, the Canadian breweries, one or two of them anyway, released their version. American breweries did too.

Bock was a stronger style of beer, originally an “ale” (top-fermented) which transmuted into all-malt lager form with the onset of Bavarian bottom-fermentation. It derives by old accounts from the town of Einbeck in northern Germany, and may have been a dark wheat brew. It was shipped widely including to Bavaria where it was admired for its strength and restorative qualities.

Due to its special qualities, there have long been monastic and even royal associations with the beer. The Paulaner Franciscan order apparently devised the extra-strong version called doppelbock.

This 1890s account of bock’s origins has a ring of truth about it and accords with other accounts going back at least to the 1820s. Einbeck, sometimes formerly called Eimbeck, has a brewery that still makes a (bottom-fermented) bock, indeed more than one kind, and they are very highly regarded.

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Bock in Germany, the regular kind, was a couple of points stronger than regular lager in the 1800s, around 6% abv. Labatt Breweries 30 years ago had a “Super Bock” in the market at 6.5% abv. I remember it well. It had a nice tawny colour and a more pronounced taste than regular beer. Still, by today’s craft standards, it would be considered fairly inoffensive.

In an unlikely development, a bottle of Super Bock was found in recent years and opened, you can see the video review of the team which drank it, here. I haven’t see the video yet, but I’d imagine the group had fun checking out this oldie.

Strangely, bock in its most traditional form has been overlooked by the craft breweries. You can find everything from Silesian smoked wheat beer to tea-flavoured stout to you name it, but relatively little dark bock of the old spring seasonal type.

Helles bock, a later variant based on a golden lager, doesn’t really flatter the style. This type of bock does appear with more frequency from the vats of craft brewers.

Perhaps they feel the light colour will appeal more to people than the regular dark bock, but I’ve had few that are really good. (Blonde beer in general shouldn’t be too strong I think, whether Whitbread Gold Label, Duvel, U.S. malt liquor, or helles bock, they seem of limited appeal somehow).

Good dark bock shows the qualities one associates with great German beer: clean, mineral-like hop character and rich malty notes, but in bock the latter should predominate.

Schlenkerla’s Urbock from Bamberg in Bavaria, only lightly smoked, is outstanding.

EinbeckerBierflaschen

The doppel versions of German brewers are usually very good but tend to be early winter specialties and hard to find in North America. These and numerous other bock beer variants are well-described in this German Beer Institute entry here.

In Ontario, Brick Brewing in Waterloo made an excellent bock for years but I haven’t seen it lately.  Molson-Coors’s Creemore UrBock is first-rate if well-matured to expel the boiled veg note that the Creemore lagers tend to exhibit (IMO). I keep a few cans for months in the fridge, bought in the winter when it is only available. This extra “lagering” usually makes them perfect by the autumn following. Molson used to have its own bock beer (see image appended) at a modest 5% – to my best recollection this was fairly ordinary, and its Creemore brand today is a decided improvement.

I heard that Side Launch Brewing in Collingwood, ON just issued a bock which is good news as anything from that brewery is top quality. I’ve been trying to track it down, so far without luck. Maybe Saturday will be Der Tag.

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You still hear the story that bock beer is or was made from the residues at the bottom of the vats, before they were cleaned. It’s not and never was true. Michael Jackson, the great beer author (1942-2007), wrote that various beer legends were embroidered and transposed to result in this tall tale. Fest lager made in March but finished up in October – what was left in the vats – became associated with bock because both were stronger and darker than regular blonde lager. Fest beer was sometimes called March beer since it was brewed then, so the last of the March beer consumed in the fall became associated with the strong dark beer called bock which hit the market in March and April.

The goat association results from the fact that in the Bavarian dialect, Einbeck sounded like ein bock – a goat. Goats famously can kick, so the association with bock beer was a natural and has never disappeared – a harmless story which makes for fun labels.

If you can find a genuine, un-hyphenated bock, locally made or imported, it is a treat. Whether it tastes like the 1300s Einbeck original, we will never know. But it’s great beer either way.

Note re images: The first image above is in the public domain and was sourced here. The second and third were sourced here, and hereThe fourth, in the public domain, here. All are believed available for educational and historical use. All feedback welcomed.

Some Taste Notes Including For A Fine Bourbon

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A very fresh can of the Barca stand-by, Estrella Damm, under eight weeks from packaging working back from the best-by date.

While an adjunct brew, it has a full and beery taste – nothing retiring about it. However, it has a noticeable dimethyl sulphide note (DMS) in my opinion, which tends to colour the character of the beer, much as yeast can do when prominent in the finished product.

This is a traditional blonde lager profile – one of them – but not to my liking. I left the glass shown on the counter with a small plate on top and the remainder of the beer still in the can. Tonight I’ll try it again, or maybe even tomorrow night. The DMS may lift off, as has occurred in other similar situations. Otherwise I’ll blend it, probably with a strong stout. Some carbonation will escape of course but surprisingly little if the glass and can aren’t disturbed. Also, losing 30%-40% carbonation is actually an improvement to most beer.

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It’s a cliché to say it, but this German Red Ale is one of the best beers I’ve ever had. It has a clean but very flavourful malt richness and sturdy but not dominating (as appropriate) hop character. I think Perle and Magnum hops are used. The label says Altbier style and it is exactly that, made in St-Eustache, Quebec by Brasseurs Illimités.  I had a sticke Altbier once from Dusseldorf, Zum Uerige’s, flown in a wood keg to a fest in Baltimore, MD some years back. Brasseurs Illimités’ version is very similar.

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An abbey classic from Belgium, rich-flavoured and faultless in authenticity. It’s made by Moortgat, which holds the licence from the Benedictines of the abbey where the recipe was originated. This is Maredsous 8, 8% abv, the dubbel. I’d guess it is flash-pasteurized for export but am not sure. It’s got that fruity background typical of good Belgian beer but that Belgian yeast gets up my nose. I find if I drink it and don’t “think” about it, it tastes much better. Voilà!

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Tasted at a LCBO tasting counter, Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve, 120 proof (60% abv). From the bourbon powerhouse which is Beam Suntory in Clermont, KY. I added enough water to bring it to about 40% abv. What a whiskey! Very full and rich, elegant, everything in the right place. People say some bourbon is like good Cognac, often an exaggeration but in this case fully justified. I don’t mean to say bourbon isn’t as valid a spirit as good brandy. But it is rare in my experience that you can sip a bourbon neat and get perceptions similar to good Cognac such as softness, a velvet quality, and refined taste.

This bottle bears a nine year age statement, the Knob Creek standard unless it has changed lately. Yet, the whiskey in the current single barrel bottlings is a few years older than that. A little birdie told me, plus it tastes more matured than regular Knob Creek. The regular-issue stuff is hardly to be disdained, but this 120 proof version is the bee’s knees. The barrel birthed something real special here, folks.

The trademark yeast/anise flavour of Beam-recipe bourbon is completely absent. Presumably, extra aging and/or barrel selection resulted in a different profile. They should do this for the regular Knob Creek.

Finally, don’t try to drink it neat and be a he-man. High proof bourbon, even at 100 proof let alone 120 proof, was almost never drunk that way in the classic era of bourbon, say 1840s-1990s. It was mixed in cocktails or drunk with ice and water. Sometimes it was drunk neat, but not at 120 proof. More typically this would have been at 80-90 proof, or 40-45% abv.

Getting 120 proof simply means you are getting a better value – more alcohol – it’s not an invitation to drink it straight at that proof. Take a micro-sip just to see what it’s like, if you wish. Otherwise, adjust it so it’s like a standard bottle in proof (80-100). Not only will it taste in your drinks as it should, you are in effect saving 20% or more off the sticker price – itself quite reasonable for a bourbon of this, er, caliber.

Pasteurization And The Next Frontier For Industrial Brewers

Louis_Pasteur,_foto_av_Félix_Nadar_Crisco_editPasteur Had A Good Run, But What’s Next?

When the beer revival started over 30 years ago, pasteurization was a big deal, or rather, its absence. Those commenting on the new crop of beers noted if they weren’t pasteurized, which was frequently the case. Why? Because pasteurization had become a hallmark of almost all bottled and canned beer in North America.

Coors was an exception, it used a fine filtration method it felt removed most of the active biological matter, especially yeast, from the beer, but even then applied end-to-end refrigeration to further cut the risk of undue spoilage. A couple of other brands, usually advertising a “draft” character, similarly skipped the process but were tightly filtered, Miller Genuine Draft is an example.

Draft beer, at that time, generally was not pasteurized because it was usually sold locally, within a short time frame, and kept cold until dispense. Today, in Canada, I am quite certain mainstream brands are all pasteurized whether bottled/canned or draft. In the U.S., you hear different things, but I’d guess all mega-brewery draft beer there, except Coors and Miller Genuine Draft, is pasteurized. The same applies to old-established regionals like Yuengling.

The onset of flash pasteurizing for mass market U.S. draft was encouraged as well by the Sankey keg system. It was invented in the U.K. in the 1950s and  was designed to be filled in connection with flash pasteurized beer.

As for craft beer made by mega-brewers which now own those brands, practice varies. Some of those beers are now pasteurized, some are not. In Canada for example, I’ve heard that Molson Coors does not pasteurize any form of Creemore Lager. What about, though, Goose Island IPA as brewed in a Labatt plant? I’d think it is pasteurized but am not sure.

Pasteurization takes its name from the French scientist Louis Pasteur. In experiments to promote the better keeping of wine and beer, he concluded that application of relatively low levels of heat (c. 165 F) would stabilize the product and retard souring for longer. The idea wasn’t new, canned food had been treated with heat to preserve its contents by then, and centuries before the Chinese were heating wine to preserve it. But Pasteur had a huge impact on the beer industry.

Early descriptions of the process refer to “steaming” the beer, or even sterilizing it although pasteurization is not sterilization technically (that would involve using a much hotter process which would destroy much of the character and taste of the beer). Pasteurization is not applied to make the beer safe for consumption: alcohol in beer ensures dangerous pathogens are absent. Rather, the process is used to retard undue spoilage, especially souring. An old, unpasteurized beer cannot harm you, in other words, it is different where the process is used in the milk and cream industry. Below, I show an image from the 1930s of a pasteurizer which happens to be from the dairy industry, but the principle is very similar to that used in brewing.

There are two forms of pasteurization, the tunnel method and the flash method. The former is more intensive and the bottles stay in a tunnel for 30 minutes or more and their temperature is elevated within a period calculated to secure a given period of stability. The flash method entails heating the beer to a higher temperature (some sources say lower) but for a much shorter time. This correspondingly obtains a shorter period of stability for the beer. I could give more technical details, for any interested, but this explains the nub of it.

By definition, English-style cask ale is not pasteurized since it is unfiltered after coming out of primary fermentation and remains so until dispense – killing the active yeast in the beer would defeat the purpose. The lack of application of heat and retention of some residual yeast in the beer gives it a delicate edge pasteurized and filtered beer doesn’t have. Many traditional small breweries in Europe never pasteurized, even where they filtered their products clear for the market. Many connoisseurs sought out these beers for their extra character.

Following this example, when the first modern craft beers emerged in North America, most were unpasteurized regardless of packaging method, and the breweries made a point of this. Either the beers were filtered to be clear or left with some residual yeast (in bottle or barrel), but pasteurization was avoided to retain the fullest flavour possible. Therefore, a beer like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to this day is not pasteurized. Certainly the bottled beer isn’t and I believe the draft, even as exported to Canada, is not. Most craft brewing in Ontario does not pasteurize. Sleeman, now owned by Sapporo of Japan, always did, I understand, but it is an exception.

StateLibQld_1_212036_Cream_pasteurising_and_cooling_coils_at_Murgon_Butter_Factory,_1939

In the U.S., the iconic Anchor Brewing in San Francisco has pasteurized throughout its revival, as it sought to meld the best of old and new brewing practices. The “best”, in the minds of its management in the late 60s, included pasteurization. Even its draft beer is pasteurized. Anchor uses the flash method for all packaging forms, however. I’ve read that Samuel Adams’ bottled and canned beers are pasteurized – in part this may have been because a lot of it was contracted out to industrial breweries. Its draft, at least as sold in the U.S., is not pasteurized. Some other well-known craft names do pasteurize, but information is hard to come by as this information is usually not volunteered.

Some years ago, I asked Anchor Brewery why it pasteurizes everything when, i) most craft beer is not pasteurized, and ii) one can regularly drink all forms of craft beer made on the other side of North America and it seems usually just fine. The LCBO imports craft beer from British Columbia, say, and many other far-away places. Rarely can I recall buying one that was sour in the bottle without intending to be – maybe once or twice in 30 years. Are modern brewers who pasteurize being too conservative?

You can read Anchor’s reply to me here. In essence, they said that despite modern brewing sanitation methods being used (to avoid wild yeast and other sources of contamination entering the packaged beer), pasteurizing is an insurance policy to lengthen shelf life. They acknowledged that some people feel taste is affected by the process, but offered the opinion, as many brewers I’ve met do, that people cannot tell the difference when tasting blind. Moosehead Brewery in Canada has a commendably long discussion of pasteurization, here, which is similar in its arguments to Anchor’s. Moosehead states however that flavour can be impacted, particularly hop character, but opines that adjustments can be made at the brewery to compensate.

All brewers seem to agree that pasteurization must be done “correctly”, and e.g., if beer is heated too high, it may lead to a burned caramel taste (which I sometimes taste in all kinds of pasteurized beer) or even premature oxidation – damp paper staling. This can result from the effect of the heat on residual oxygen in the beer. (I have encountered this problem too).

While I have never done a blind test – happy to participate if anyone asks – I am convinced that pasteurization does alter flavour somewhat. Some brewers feel the same, and e.g., the advertising for the “tank” version of Pilsner Urquell you can get in some specialist bars in Europe specifically claims a superior flavour due to absence of pasteurization. Look at this explanation, in regard to such a pub in Ireland.

That explanation states that unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell is good for only three weeks and once tapped should be used up within a week. How does that square with being able to drink perfectly sound craft beers made thousands of miles away which have to be older than three weeks from packaging, in some cases much older? I think again brewers are being conservative. Also, Urquell is 4.4% abv, rather weaker than most craft beer. Higher alcohol probably preserves beer for longer. The other explanation many brewers give is, craft beers often have high levels of hopping or other flavour attributes which disguise any faults resulting from absence of pasteurization. I’m not sure I agree with that, or not entirely.

Yesterday, I discussed the Heineken BrewLock draft dispense system, an improvement in the eyes of its producer on the current method to dispense draft beer. However one views that, one thing the process doesn’t change is pasteurization – BrewLock Heineken is pasteurized as all forms of Heineken lager are, even for The Netherlands market.

A real innovation, and I predict it is the next frontier, is introducing commercial draft beer which is not pasteurized, in particular for well-regarded imports. Doing so will take a leaf from the book of the craft brewers, most of whom do not pasteurize. Tank beer is the wedge – and it is not just Pilsner Urquell which is available in some places in that form, other Czech beers are also including Staropramen and Budvar.

IMO, there is no reason today that beer can’t reach our market from Europe or almost anywhere within four weeks. Some bottled/canned beer already gets here, even in the LCBO’s system, within six to eight weeks from packaging. Modern transportation and logistics systems should be able to accommodate fast transport of unpasteurized beer including in refrigerated form if necessary. Certainly a brewer who does this first will have a leg up because I believe unpasteurized beer is superior if drunk within a reasonable time from packaging. The timeline may vary with the type of beer being made, but experience with a wide range of craft beer shows that it is perfectly drinkable for much longer than four weeks.

Finally, just because the flavour difference may be subtle in many cases, and the average customer can’t articulate why he/she prefers one form to another, doesn’t mean an unpasteurized beer won’t appeal more than one which is not. It will.

Note re images above: Both are in the public domain, and believed available for educational and historical purposes. They were sourced here and here. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

Heineken Pops Up in Toronto in a New Guise

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I had seen a bus shelter ad on King Street downtown for the new BrewLock Heineken dispense system, and looked into it further. Heineken has been rolling this out for a little while but it’s new in North America. Only one pub has it so far in this area, the Coach and Four, out in Oakville on Lake Ontario. I went there for lunch on Friday (nice place) and tried the beer. It was good but seemed not really different to regular draft Heineken.

Yesterday, after a long (cold) walk around downtown, I happened upon a pop up offering a free glass of the new beer. A Heineken brewer was present to give a demonstration of how BrewLock works. Most lager and craft beers – almost all that aren’t “cask” real ale – are forced to the bar by carbon dioxide, or a blend of CO2 and nitrogen gas. It is forced into the keg from a cylinder and regulator. The gas presses on the beer from the top – hence the old expression, top pressure – and forces it out of the keg to the bar. The beer travels up through a hollow tube in the centre of the keg which reaches almost to the bottom.

The BrewLock system uses compressed air to put pressure on a plastic sack or bladder of beer within a hard plastic (PET) tubular shell. So the air never touches the beer itself. There is a somewhat similar system called KeyKeg where CO2 is pumped into a double-walled container to the same end. Unlike the former Scottish cask ale dispense I discussed some weeks ago where compressed air was injected directly into a cask of beer, the BrewLock, and KeyKeg systems, once again do not put the air and gas into the beer; the pressure is applied simply to collapse a filled bladder to force out its contents.

In these new systems, the beer retains the level of carbonation set by the brewery, whereas with normal CO2 or mixed gas dispense, additional gas(es) enter the beer. The carbonation level is set at the brewery to accommodate this, but in practice, and given the different mixed gas proportion bars use, there is some variation from bar to bar and glass to glass in the fizz level in the glass. (I simply adjust it to what I like by swirling the beer with a swizzler, of course you can’t do that if the gas level is too low. In that case just give the beer back for a replacement).

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For the bar owner, the advantages claimed are that the 20 L BrewLock keg is 25% lighter than a 20 L metal keg. Less energy is consumed to transport and perhaps to store the kegs cold, for example. There is less waste too, it is estimated 10-15% of the beer in a normal metal keg is retained as wastage. The BrewLock system expels almost all the beer but for a few drops. There is no reuse of the keg by the supplier, the BrewLock is a one-way system but its components are fully recyclable. I would think this means, though, that a system must exist to permit the recycling. I’m not sure how that works currently in Ontario. I wonder if the keg supplier for example (The Beer Store or an authorized distributor) picks up the expended PET shell and ensures it is recycled.

What does the new system mean for the consumer? I asked the brewer making the demonstration if the taste of the beer was different from the regular draft system. He said the beer itself is the same in either case, but the brewery feels that dispensing it at the set carbonation level desired by Heineken results in the optimal taste. I was wondering if the beer might be a touch under-carbonated but it wasn’t, it had a similar level to a canned or bottled Heineken.

The beer did seem very fresh and tasty. Heineken is an all-malt lager and reasonably hopped. When served in good condition, it is a good beer albeit on the dryish side. I’ve discussed numerous times here that in the past, Heineken and many European lagers had a slight sulphury note (over-boiled egg or struck match). This is a characteristic of much blonde lager brewing due to the type of yeast and pale malts used, but brewery procedures can be adjusted to remove the taste. The BrewLock draft didn’t have the taste at all, a big plus for the beer IMO. I am wondering if BrewLock in some way precludes this characteristic. Either that or, more likely, the brewery is taking pains to rub the taste out at the brewery.

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I think the way to look at BrewLock Heineken is that it is like a very fresh bottled beer. It is pasteurized like canned and bottled Heineken are but presumably by the less-intensive flash process. True, regular draft Heineken is all that as well, but when you add gases to the beer you are “changing” it. The idea that it comes to the glass without any admixture at all, be it sterile or otherwise, has a certain appeal.

There was a lot of talk about the need to skim the head. The presenter claimed this hived off excess bitterness which gathers at the top of the foam layer. I don’t put much faith in this really, and in any case I like bitterness in beer. Our bars don’t usually do it anyway and it’s not in general a desirable practice IMO.

There was some interesting technical discussion about how the head forms, the right size, surface tension, etc.

The presenter was charming and funny and people – mostly younger people from the condos in the area – had a good time. I was struck by the fact that of their questions, none were on the craft vector. No one asked until I did if the BrewLock beer is pasteurized (it is), or how long it takes to ship the beer to North America, whether Heineken has other styles in its range, etc. It’s a reminder that craft brewing is still a sub-culture. I’d like to have talked to the brewer more in-depth but it wasn’t possible in a format like that. I am sure he is capable of appreciating many beer styles – most brewers I’ve met are – and would make an interesting person to talk shop with.

From a business standpoint it was excellent marketing by Heineken. I am sure it cost a pretty penny but will surely be worth it. It was well-organized with good hosting and control, and nice hors d’oeuvre too. The large brewers know how to do this very well and I admire it at that level.

 

 

 

Beer in English Cookery – Part III

Passenger_pigeon_shootLet’s look more closely at William Fowler’s use of beer in recipes in his Countryman’s Cooking (1965). He uses it first for his dish of stewed pigeon.

He makes many observations of interest to those seeking wood pigeon for food. First, he says the fowl is an example of a luxury food which happens to be cheap, hence the insouciant attitude, at best, of those who eat it. Those who avoid it are pleased to call it vermin, which he explains is most unfair except when flocks of Continental birds “ravage green-crops in the winter”. (If you didn’t think that’s a joke, tarry a bit to glean the Fowlerian sense of humour).

He notes that a pigeon is easy to dress, its feathers come out with no trouble, to the point dogs don’t like to fetch them as the feathers stick in their nose. Fowler ponders the old saw that eating pigeon each day for a week will kill you, but seems persuaded it is an old wives tale.

His recipe is to put the pigeon pieces in a marinade of “draught beer, with added sliced, raw onion and such herbs as you prefer. I prefer bay leaves”. He has some specialist advice on the beer. Use, he says, “mild, bitter, or old ale”, but make sure it is draught as with “bottled beer … the effect is not the same”. I think the fact that draught beer – cask ale in his time, surely – was unpasteurized and had residual yeast explains his view. Bottled beer then was almost always pasteurized and had no live yeast. Today, most craft beer is not pasteurized, draft, bottled or canned, and usually has some residual yeast. Probably any craft beer would serve the function of Fowler’s draught beer, therefore.

All this is soaked overnight. The meat is then removed from the marinade, floured, sautéed, and casseroled. The marinade goes back in, and if it doesn’t come to the top of the meat, add water until it does. The cooking takes upwards of an hour to an hour and half. The meat is then taken out and the sauce enriched with egg yolk if it needs thickening. He suggest adding a glass of port to the sauce if one likes the touch of sweetness added.

To go with it: creamed potato, and then broad beans, Scarlet runners (?) or Brussels sprouts, as these are served dry and thus suitable with a dish already sauced.

He says red wine serves well for the marinade and sauce but he prefers to use beer and drink the wine – claret, he specifies – with the dish. Rook and “waders” (curlew, oyster catchers, and such) can be treated just as the pigeon.

Fowler also advises beer, as an alternative to cider or any wine, with a casserole of rabbit or mutton, and in beef olives, an ancient dish which has attracted Jamie Oliver’s attention. I mentioned earlier Fowler is a proponent of using beer in steak and kidney pie.

This is I believe the tally of his recipes in which beer can appear. Of his stewed or casseroled dishes which do not call for beer, his “Tatie Pot” is an example. It is a version of northern Hot Pot – Fowler lived in the northwest of England – and only water is specified. The first part of the Tatie Pot recipe reads as follows:

Take one medium-sized sheep (preferably someone else’s), and reduce it to handy-size pieces. Peel the sack of spuds that a local farmer gave you after you had been wondering, out loud, who had torn Edith Entwhistle’s frock off at the last hop.

John_Smith's_Brewery,_TadcasterFowler’s jugged hare specifies a pint of draught cider – no other liquid is suggested. He has a second stewed hare dish, which calls for all-lemon juice in the braise. This makes for a sour taste indeed but he says it will appeal to those who don’t like the taste of hare. As for roast hare, he says, don’t go there, it’s too stringy that way.

For Fowler’s casseroles and stews in which neither beer nor cider is specified, he suggests red wine, white wine, or just water. For eel, he specifies dry white wine as having the right quality to remove the excess richness from the fish – no reference to beer, or for any of his fish dishes. There is no counterpart in Fowler’s book to the beer and fish cookery of northern France and Belgium.

And so here, beer has a reasonable place in English cookery in its bucolic branch. And yet, in the 1970s, Elizabeth Ayrton was capable of writing a book 500 pages long on traditional dishes of the English people and not mentioning beer a single time. (I think she did mention “small beer” once in connection with a raising a pastry of some kind, which hardly counts). With the exception of a north country beef and beer recipe and I think one for Welsh Rabbit (the cheese dish), Dorothy Hartley did the same thing in her classic 1950s Food In England.

Many other books of traditional English cooking, contemporary and Victorian, similarly don’t mention beer, or barely. The bourgeois cooking of England, post-Georgian I mean, certainly almost never used it, but even the country cooking is non-committal, one might say.

Thus, we can conclude that beer cookery is not a national practice, or even a well-anchored specialist practice. Nonetheless, it has a place in English tradition, and William Fowler’s book is a good illustration of its uses where wanted, but also its limits.

Note re images used: The first image shown, of hunting the passenger pigeon, is in the public domain, and was sourced here.  It is believed available for educational and historical use. The second image shown is attributed as follows: By Tim Green (Flickr: John Smith’s Brewery, Tadcaster) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. It was sourced here. All feedback welcomed.