Category: Brewed

#HOTGV: On Innis & Gunn with Dougal Sharp

A while ago, I went to Edinburgh for the film festival. I was a guest of Innis & Gunn who were sponsoring the event. I wasn’t familiar with the brand at the time but it seemed like a good way to get to know the friendly bunch behind the brand.

Fast forward a few years and the business has grown into a multi-million pound company. I must admit, although I’m much more familiar with the products, I still didn’t know that much about the company.

Dougal Sharp, Innis & Gunn

So last month, when Dougal Sharp, the founder and CEO of Innis & Gunn, came to do a home-brewing demonstration at The Tramshed in London, I took the opportunity to interview him for Heard on the Grape Vine.

Beer matching dinner with Innis & Gunn

The Innis & Gunn story began in 2002. Dougal was working for another brewery when a chance encounter with a whisky company led to the accidental discovery of oak aged beer.That idea sparked into Innis & Gunn, a sizeable beer brand that’s now available all over the world.

It was late and we had just finished a beer matching menu so bear with us as we explore a small aspect of this big brand.

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Sake sommeliery at Harrods

sake sommelier at Harrods wine shop

Sake, that illusive Japanese drink which, despite its increasing popularity in restaurants and elsewhere, remains a bit of a mystery to the public.

For one, there is often misconceptions about what it is. Despite the fact that basic versions are now widely available in supermarkets, it is still often mistakenly called Japanese rice wine. In reality, the process of making sake is more like that of beer – the starch in rice must be converted to sugars before it can be fermented using yeast. And in Japan, the establishments which make sake are called breweries.

Then there is the matter of how to drink sake. Should you have it warm or cold? And how does this then affect that food you might have with it? After all, sake is reported to have completely different characteristics on the palate compared to the nose.

Luckily these, and other intricate matters, are covered in the first and only sake sommelier course in the UK.

sake sommelier at Harrods wine shop

Held in the private room of Harrod’s wine shop, the course is run by the Sake Sommelier Association and offers an introduction to the history of sake, its making and its characteristics. Although the course is only intended as an introduction, you do get a serious overview of everything. Particularly useful, perhaps, is the classification of sake – a very confusing matter when you realise there are names for every variation!

Theory aside, you will also get to sample a few sakes from different categories and at different temperatures – everything from super polished to slightly aged. The tasting is tutored and with specially designed glasses by Riedel as well as more traditional glassware so you leave with a great set of tasting notes and ideas on how to match particular sakes with food. And as you leave, you will receive a sake sommelier certificate too. Just think, a newly qualified sake sommelier in just one session.

(First seen on BespokeRSVP)

The sensory cider experience of Magners Specials

Magners cider portfolio

After you’ve lived in the West Country for a while, you inevitably pick up the cider drinking habit and fall in love with it. The cider worship in this part of the country is contageous.

I remember when I first moved to Bristol for university, I knew almost nothing about cider except that I hated it. All my previous dalliances with cider had been as part of “snakebite” (lager, cider and blackcurrant) where it’s preferable that the blackcurrant flavours overpower everything else. In the West Country, I was only offered “cider and black” if I wanted to adulterate my drink.

Over the course of my degree, I learnt to love the drink and frequented The Coronation Tap for its extensive collection of ciders including the frozen Thatcher’s Ice Gold and the extra strong Exhibition cider. By the time I was leaving Bristol, it had become a drink of choice. Now whenever I spot ciders on my travels, especially the artisanal kind, I always raise a glass to my time at Bristol.

So I was curious to hear that Magners, the Irish cider giants, are launching a new range of ciders – an addition to their original, light and pear ciders. These new blended ciders are called Magners Specials and come in Pear and Ginger, Spiced Apple and Honey, and Spice Apple and Rhubarb.

While Magners are made in Ireland rather than the West Country, they are one of the biggest producers of cider in the UK. Their parent company also owns the likes of Bulmers (in Ireland), Gaymers, Blackthorn, Addlestones and more. I guess that means they know a thing or two about making ciders.

The tasting room at Magners cider tasting

I was invited to the basement bar of Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes to learn more about Magners ciders from Aoife Sheehan, an expert on the Magners Sensory Panel. She was part of the team which helped to develop the new ciders and has a PhD in Flavour Science – pretty swish.

On the night, Sheehan talked about the whole complex process of cider production and blending and then led us through a sensory experience of cider.

First we dabbed blue food colouring on our tongues to help count our taste buds and determine whether we’re a none-taster, taster or super-taster. This was followed by tasting spoonfuls of cinnamon sugar first while holding our noses, then without – try it at home, you’ll be surprised. Both of these little exercises were designed to show us that flavour isn’t just taste but also aroma.

Before we got into the cider though, we still had to taste different apple juices. Magners, we were told, is made from fresh apple juice rather than from concentrate. Finally, it was on to the most important part of the night – the cider tasting. Of course I was already familiar with Magners original and pear so was very excited to get into the new flavours. And I wasn’t disappointed.

The Pear and Ginger, Magners Pear cider blended with ginger, is described as “a lightly spiced cider which is fruity and warm and has a very refreshing taste on the palate”. While the Spiced Apple and Honey, Magners Original cider blended with honey, zesty orange peel and a touch of cinnamon, is “an elegant, smooth cider with refreshing hints of citrus”. And then there’s the Spiced Apple and Rhubarb, Magners Original cider blended with a light spice and rhubarb, which is “a distinct, subtly sweet cider with gentle cinnamon notes”.

Just like for Sheehan, it was very difficult for me to choose between them. Each had their own unique angle but my favourite was definitely the Spiced Apple and Honey. Its sweetness and force of intense flavours is both warming and refreshing at the same time – something I imaging could work both warm and cold.

On the way home, I considered the cider. How different these flavours are to the other ones on the market and what a way to adulterate the cider.

Below is a few snaps from the cider tasting:

Kirin pop-up Yatai at Dray Walk Gallery, Truman Brewery

A little while ago I was invited to the launch of the Kirin First Cut Short Film Competition.

That competition has now closed and a selection of finalists have been chosen with the winner yet to be decided. Between the 3rd and 8th of August, diners at the Kirin pop-up Yatai will be able to see and vote for their favourite finalist from the selection. The winner will then be announced at the 55th BFI London Short Film Festival, which starts from the 12th of October and runs until the 27th October.

The Yatai is created in conjunction with the head chefs of Yashin sushi and will be at the Dray Walk Gallery in East London. Visit www.kirinfirstcut.co.uk/how-to-book.php to book your space.

Below is a selection of images from the press launch:

Kirin First Cut

Kirin Ichiban

Last night I was invited to an event at Shoreditch Studios. It’s the sort of event where there’s high ceilings in a loft studio space and trendy Shoreditch types. The event in question was the launch of ‘Kirin First Cut’ Short Film Competition.

Kirin Ichiban, a light beer, was available on draught and in bottles. Kirin is a Japanese beer brand, although Wells & Young’s Brewing Company produces it in the UK; and Ichiban because the beer is made via the Ichiban Shibori process, which literally translates to ‘first press’. This means that the ingredients are used only once in the brewing process.

It might seem random for a beer to create a short film competition but actually Kirin sponsors a number of arts, fashion and design projects including BALTIC, a contemporary arts centre in Gateshead. For the Kirin First Cut competition they are looking for shorts, made in any format, based on the theme of ‘First Press’. This can be literal or metaphoric. There will be prizes of course, ranging from a year’s supply of Kirin Ichiban to £3,000 and premiers at various short film festivals.

Metcalfes Skinny Topcorn Wasabi Popcorn

The event had a nice tie in with food as well. Aside from the wasabi nuts and assorted snacks available with the beer, there was also sushi and kushiage – deep-fried skewers of food. In fact kushiage was precisely the sort of food you might find at the Kirin Ichiban pop-up Yatai, which will open at a secret East London location in August 2011, where shorts from the competition will be shown.

The entertainment of the evening was traditional music (shamisen and drums) plus Go, origami and Kanji stands. I think perhaps my favourite part of the evening was the short film screenings. We were given Wasabi flavoured popcorn and shown a series of shorts from Future Shorts. There were quite a few different genres and it reminded me how much I enjoyed short films. I went to a lot of screenings but I think started with this one:

If you’re interested in making and submitting a short, visit www.kirinfirstcut.co.uk. You can also book a table for the pop-up Yatai at the website.

A hop and a skip to malt at Sambrook’s

Sambrooks brewery pull clips

Sambrook’s Brewery, Battersea, is a place full of reinventions.

The brewery’s co-founder, Duncan Sambrook, was a City accountant before he threw in the towel to become a brewer in 2008. The brewery’s premises in Battersea was a television studio prior to having its double-panelled floors stripped bare, the walls resprayed with hygiene paint and 20 barrel-capacity brewing equipment installed, transforming it into a microbrewery in the heart of London. In some respects the whole operation is rather like the revival of the brewing industry, with smaller microbreweries becoming increasingly popular compared to larger industrial manufacturers.

Reinvention has certainly suited Sambrook’s. Since its first cask was tapped in November 2008, over one million pints have been served to thirsty punters across London. Junction, one of its two permanent ales has even won Beer of the Festival at this year’s Battersea Beer Festival. So on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I headed down to Sambrook’s to see what the fuss is all about.

When I arrived for the tour of the brewery I was met by Duncan Sambrook in a reception area decorated to look like a pub. On display at the bar were the pump clips of the cask ales produced by Sambrook’s – Wandle and Junction. The Wandle is named after a tributary of the Thames, from where Sambrook’s draws its water, while the name Junction is derived from Clapham Junction, Sambrook’s nearest station. It all feels very local, which is exactly the ethos that Sambrook’s is trying to maintain – a London brewer making beer for Londoners.

We were also joined by a group of beer connoisseurs from Brighton CAMRA who were very enthusiastic about the pint of Wandle to start the tour. It was light, slightly sweet and very refreshing.

Given that my last tour of a brewery was the Guinness factory in Ireland, I had expected huge containers for the brewing and even bigger warehouses to store the hops and malt. The kind of place where you start to feel drunk just by breathing in. Sambrook’s was tiny in comparison so it was surprising to learn that by brewing four times a week, Sambrook’s actually produces around 27,000 pints. That’s a lot of thirst quenching.

Unlike most breweries, Sambrook’s likes to mill their own malt. It’s so that they get “just the right amount of sugar” to kick off the process. That much at least will be drilled into you by the end of the tour.

The milled malt goes into a vat called the mash tun where hot water is sprayed on top to create wort, the brown sugary liquid used for the beer. The wort is then pumped into the copper where it is boiled; hops are also added for flavour and preservation of the beer. The resulting liquid is allowed to cool before it is fermented for six days.

So a week later you have your tasty Wandle or Junction, depending on the mix of malt and hops used, ready to be pumped into firkins, kilderkins or barrels and delivered by Sambrook’s drivers to any of the 120 or so pubs within the M25 that serve their ales.

The tour was a real insight into the world of microbrewing and it’s quite obvious that Duncan Sambrook is as enthusiastic about his brewing now as he was on day one. This is a man who is proud to welcome visitors to his brewery, where tours with tastings are run Mondays to Thursdays plus Saturdays. And of course it wouldn’t be right if we didn’t end the tour with a pint of Sambrook’s other permanent ale; the award-winning, darker, stronger and slightly bitter, Junction.

Sambrook’s is at Unit 1&2 Yelverton Road, Battersea SW11 3QG www.sambrooksbrewery.co.uk

(First seen on Foodepedia)

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