Craft Beer, Craft Beer, Craft Beer!!!
You'd think that beer has only just been invented in recent times with the explosion of craft beers over the past few years on our shores, but our beers and real ales have always been right up there as some of the best produced in the world and let's face it we pretty much invented I.P.A & pale ale so what's all the fuss about?
My first experience of 'craft beer' was over in America in 2012 while travelling the country filming my second series of Street Feasts for Food Network UK. After filming each day, the crew and I would go to a bar and try what I would describe as cold, fizzy and strong I.P.A. I was hooked straight away, refreshing and with lots of flavour and an unfamiliar taste as I was a premium lager drinker (to my shame). So I asked myself what was so different... Do the hotter summers of the States demand a cooler beverage? If so, I can see why the cold and fizzy-ness would work so well over there but here with our colder climate, is there really a need to follow in their steps when our cask ales work so well? Or is it simply just another way to enjoy beer?
Now back to Britain. It seems so, as we now have over 1,200 independent breweries in the UK producing craft beer and not just the American style but with flavours from all over the world and of course, British Ales. Cynics (and there's no shortage of them) will say its an over hyped machine with people jumping on bandwagons but for me I see nothing but success stories of people setting up small businesses, getting out there and giving it a go (exactly what this country needs) and doing something they are passionate about. Now we love an underdog over here so tell me what is there not to like about these companies?
Which leads me onto the Wild Beer Company, I was lucky enough to be sent down by BBC Food and Drink to spend a day with them at their brewery, finding out what inspires them, how the business is going and of course try a beer or two ;)
Set up in 2012 by Andrew Cooper and Brett Ellis on a mission to "brew beers with a bit of a difference focusing on different ingredients, different yeasts and different barrel ageing techniques."
Both Andrew and Brett have worked in food and drink throughout their careers. Brett from California, a former chef and Andrew (an Englishman) in management and ownership of pubs and bars. They meet working at a brewery and discovered they shared a love for sour and interesting beers.
Brett took me foraging around the Somerset countryside, showing me how they use natural yeasts including berries for their beers. This method really sets them apart from mass produced breweries. Back at base, Andrew took me through a tasting session... What really stood out to me was that these are not beers for downing by the pint but drinks to be slowly enjoyed and importantly matched with food.
Now onto my recipe... One thing I learned was that the Wild Beer Co are based directly opposite to Westcombe Dairy, producers of some of finest cheddar in Somerset. This was the opportunity for the crew and I to stack up on a car load of cheese and beer. Gleefully taken, it gave me the perfect excuse to make a Cheddar and Ale soup. I used cheddar from the farm shop and Wild Beer's Scarlet Fever, a red ale with toffee caramel and citrus hops. A perfect combination!
So if you have not guessed it by now... on this week's BBC Two - Food & Drink, I'm talking CRAFT BEER with the Wild Beer Co and I join Melissa Cole at Bristol Beer Week. Tune in this Friday at 8:30 or after on catch-up HERE.
Enjoy, it's a great one!
My Cheddar and Ale Soup
- 50g butter
- 1 onion (finely chopped)
- 2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
- 60g plain flour
- 300ml chicken stock or vegetable stock
- 150ml double cream
- 300ml ale (I used Wild Beer 'Scarlet Fever')
- 200g mature cheddar (grated)
- 1tsp english mustard powder
- good dash of Worcestershire sauce
FOR THE GARNISH:
- 100g diced pancetta lardons
- 1 jalapeño (thinly sliced, keep the seeds if you want it extra spicy)
In a saucepan, melt the butter and sweat the onion and garlic for 5 minutes until soft. Add the mustard powder and flour and cook out for 2-3 minutes. Slowly, add the stock and stir continuously with a whisk to avoid lumps, add the beer and bring to a boil. Add the cheddar cheese and stir until melted, then add the cream and cook gently on a low heat for 10 minutes until it has thickened. Add to a food processor or liquidiser/blender and blitz til smooth, return to a clean pan and keep warm until needed.
In a frying pan, fry off the pancetta lardons until crispy (or to your liking).
Serve in a bowl with the pancetta and jalapeño sprinkled on top.
*For a vegetarian option, use vegetable stock and omit the pancetta on the garnish.
(photos by Nathan Valentine)