Thursday, 3 March 2011

Beer Dinner at Flinty Red

Flinty Red, the restaurant run as a collaboration between the chefs Matthew Williamson and Claire Thomson and the wine merchants Dominic Harman and Rachel Higgens of Corks of Cotham, invited us to come and do a night of beer and food matching with them. An offer we couldn't resist.

Matt put together a fabulous menu using as many beer elements as you could dream of, using hops and malt in their 'raw' form and 'wort' (the beer before fermentation) as well as cooking with different beers.

A full house descended on the restaurant on a chilly Tuesday evening, to be welcomed by a Black Velvet, the classic Stout & sparkling wine cocktail first drunk to mourn Prince Albert in 1861. Bristol Stout is a classic Irish-style dry stout with lovely roasted flavours from its blend of 7 different malts. The light bubbles from the sparkling wine and the hint of roastiness were a lovely balance surprising a lot of people who wouldn't normally try such a drink.

After an introduction to the brewery and a description of how we use hops by Brett Ellis (the brewery hophead), the first course of cured trout was served. The Trout had been cured in 2 different ways, the first piece was hop-cured, using hops in the curing process and a little of our home-made Citra Hop Vodka to give a really citrus hop character to the trout. The second cure used a beer vinegar and both pale ale and crystal malts. The flavours in both cures worked particularly well with the trout - the hop-cure was my personal favourite. The trout was served with Acer, a 3.8% golden-orange ale with a noticeable citrus hop kick and full mouthfeel of ripe tangerines (not mouldy oranges!). It was a terrific partner to the trout, the citrus notes in the beer being a fine compliment to the fish and the bready malt backbone to the beer matching the malt-cured trout very nicely.

The second course was a classic beer-lovers dish of Mussels cooked in a wheat beer liquor. The wheat beer was our Bristol Hefe a German-style wheat beer, creamy and full-bodied, yet zippy and zesty from the wheat, but it is the yeast that is the real star of this beer giving incredible aromas and flavours of banana and bubble gum and a clove spiciness. A delicious refreshing style of beer that is a fantastic accompaniment to any fish, but particularly shellfish. The mussels were lovely and plump, a hint of the sea, onion and garlic and a balancing citrus acidity from the beer. To mop up all the lovely liquor Matt had made a beer bread or barm using Gold our strong golden ale with a biscuity backbone and citrus hops.

The first meaty course of the evening was probably my favourite pairing. Duck breast cured using crystal malt, chosen because of its sweetness. The duck was given a traditional salt and sugar cure with light spices and some vanilla, it was then packed in the crystal malt. Head brewer Chris Kay gave us an introduction to the different varieties of malt and how it is used in the brewing process as well as a description of this style of beer. The duck was incredible in both flavour and texture, deep, rich, sweet and salty meat served with some balancing celeriac. The beer we chose to go with it was Exhibition, a classic old fashioned style of Englich ale, strong and flavourful, the malty flavours pairing particularly well with the rich meat and the fruity esters from the yeast a delicious contrast. A great success of a beer and food match, and the memories from the duck have me salavating!

The next dish is a Belgian classic of Carbonade - essentially meat cooked in beer. Matt chose to do Ox Cheeks in our Ultimate Stout. Dark, rich beef cooked ever so slowly in a big strong stout, lots of really big flavours in this dish. The Ultimate Stout is our strongest beer so far at 7.7%, we brew it using a Belgian yeast that gives a lighter finish to this heavy beer, I think making it a more drinkable beer. The Ox Cheeks melted in the mouth and the stout gave the dish a great depth of flavour. A great main course.

Cheese followed, often thought of as wines bedfellow, but we have long-believed that beer and cheese can make some incredible pairings. Comte d'Estive an 18 month mountain aged French Gruyere style cheese, had an earthiness and caramel sweetness that was a fantastic partner to our new Oak-aged No.7. The No.7 has a distinct toffee-malt flavour and aroma, but when aged in red wine oak barrels it takes on a few more layers of complexity with vanilla, wood and a slight vinous acidity all playing a part. It was a very good if slightly unspectacular partner to the cheese. The second cheese was a washed-rind Tallegio partnered with Acer. I initially planned to partner this with a Raspberry Hefe (our wheat beer aged on raspberries) but the beer was a bit to acidic and overpowered the cheese. Acer was just right though, light and citrussy, refreshing the mouth after each bite of the creamy cheese and with plenty of hop character to match up to the flavours in the rind.
The final pairing was Shropshire Blue and Milk Stout, one of our favourite of all beer and food partnerships. The Milk Stout is a perfect foil to blue cheese, the creaminess in the beer and cheese marry together and the blue in the cheese and roasty stout flavours in the beer work beautifully together. If you haven't tried it before or don't think you like stout I urge you to put Milk Stout and blue cheeses together.

A dark Chocolate and Stout Torte was up for dessert. The stout gave the cake an incredibly deep flavour and a lovely long bitter finish. It was paired with our Hazelnut Latte Stout, a version of our Milk Stout enriched with Java coffee and roasted hazelnuts. The coffee and nutty elements work fantastically in the beer with the sweet chocolate and creamy notes already there. The chocolate torte was accompanied by a beer ice-cream made using wort (unfermented beer), it was a very delicately flavoured ice-cream, an initial malty sweetness (think Maltesers) was then balanced with a slightly citrus hop aftertaste, all very subtle and not over-powering.

We finished the evening off with a cheeky Beer Float - Raspberry aged Stout with a little dollop of the beer ice-cream was the perfect way to finish a great evening.

Many thanks to Matt the Chef and Rachel and Becky for making us so welcome and producing some incredible food.

A few thoughts on Beer & Food Matching...

Beer has been the poor relative on the British dinner table for some time now, seen only as a social drink for the pub, lacking sophistication and ignored by restaurants.
Hopefully things are starting to change, as a Craft Beer revolution starts to slowly take hold and the spectrum of available beers increases, restaurants around the country are improving their beer lists and brewers and beer writers are desperate to spread the word.

Beer has an incredible number of different styles and flavours that can be carefully matched with the flavours in a meal to give a taste sensation that is greater than the sum of its parts. We often match our beers with the delicious cheese available from Trethowan’s Dairy, and have discovered some incredible pairings. With restaurants such as Flinty Red taking beer seriously and producing amazing food by cooking with beer and the raw ingredients from beer the future looks brighter for the nations favourite drink. Now hopefully we can inspire the public to find a place on their dinner table for a beer.

Our favourite pairings from our Flinty Red dinner.
- Crystal malt cured Duck breast paired with Exhibition - the malt gave the duck a lovely sweetness, and the depth of flavourt in the meat paired beautifully with the rich, dark fruity flavours of the beer.
- Raspberry Stout Ice-cream Float - Matt at Flinty Red made the most divine beer ice-cream that we couldn’t resist dropping into our special edition Raspberry Stout to make a fantastic after dinner dessert drink. A fun way to end a dinner party.

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