Tonight is my FABPOW (if I can use that term Mark!) and I'm sure any right minded person would agree the food looks the part....
Yes a nice selection of ham cheese and bread - the perfect accompaniment to any beer. But there is something missing.... what beer, which beer? Any food and beer pairing needs a beer.... Introducing my nemesis:
Don't get me wrong, this food may look good, but in all honesty it's basically a suped up ham and cheese sandwich, all the ingredients coming from Sainsburys! (thats how cultured I really am!)
A little history on the rhelms of smoke beer would be best described by Randy Mosher (beer guru);
"Before the advent of direct-fired kilns, all malt was either smoky or air dried. And while there is evidence in places like Norway of some very primitive indirect kilns, it is clear that many European beers before 1700 had a certain smoky quality from the wood used to kiln the malt. Equally evident from the record is that smoked beers were dropped from production in most places when maltsters figured out how to dry the malt in a smoke-free manner, except in the Franconia region of northern Bavaria."
"Wood, usually beech, is used in the kilns. The beers are brewed from various proportions of smoked and unsmoked malt to achieve the desired smoke level. A number of different beer styles are brewed, including bock and helles, but the most common smoked style is Marzen, whose rich maltiness stands up to the smoke, giving a unique balance to this beer.
Rauchbier can be startling upon the first sip, but hang in there. The beer tastes better and better as you palate becomes accustomed to it."
Now to drink some beer and eat some food!
I went with the traditional Marzen (purchased from Beer Ritz) and the oak smoked doppelbock (purchased from North Bar) to get the biggest smoke flavours possible.
The Marzen was the first up. I was expecting this beer to be horrible, from past experiences, so I approached with caution. Now I've heard from countless people that you have to drink quite a bit of this beer before it becomes enjoyable, which was never a selling point for me, but hey ho; it's a beer how bad can it be?
Turns out, that the first couple of sips were not that bad!! I'm not sure if it was because I've tried this beer in the past, or to do with my sudden resurge of drinking Islay whisky - but I did not recoil in horror! What I found was a 5.1% German brew - not much smoke to the aroma - more lager malts and bock sensations. It was very woody and suitably dry to the body, and yes you get a big smoky/ash - bonfire flavour in the finish, but persevere and you start to notice subtle flavours like a little orange tang mixed in with the carbonation.
It went super with the food. Randy suggests a "Carr Valley Applewood smoked Cheddar" to go with this beer, but I had to go for my old favorite - a big ass stilton! I love Garrett Oliver's (Brooklyn Brewery) description of cheese "Cheese is grass processed through a cow and modified by microbes." and for me the bigger the better when it comes to this microbe, cow processed, grass. I feel it really cut through the flavours of the beer and threw things wide apart, making you notice the real small things. The ham was a perfect match, even if it wasn't smoked - it really hit the spot.
Now for the green bastard....
My farm raised local ham didn't stand a chance to this smoky monster, it was bowled right over, but luckily the stilton put it in it's place! A supreme combo for me, and as the beer went down I did start to notice small differences to it. Maybe it was the 8% talking, but the smoke seemed to fade away and the caramel sweetness of a doppelbock coming from the alcohol started to take prominence. It turned it into a great warming hearty brew, much better than what I originally thought - maybe this is what people were talking about?
So... that was the smoking ban lifted for a night, I went, I drank, I enjoyed - which should be the main reason behind any beer. Would I try them again; maybe, maybe not, but they made an impression and for me that's more important than what a beer tastes like. Want to experience the smoke - get up to Beer Ritz in Leeds for a couple of bottles.
P.S. Bonus points for those who got the title! ;)