craft beers with food
amazing lunch at Alyn Williams, The Westbury
This was one of the most remarkable taste
experiences I have had. A range of American craft beers was matched
with a menu specially prepared by Alyn Williams, served in his
restaurant in The Westbury hotel in London.
These beers were truly amazing, and
simply tasting these would have been a great experience, but the
skilled pairing of these thrilling beers with food showed what
potential there is for high-end beers in the fine dining context.
The craft beers were selected and
introduced by Andreas Fält, who works for the (US) Brewers
Association as an ambassador for US craft beers in Europe.
US craft beer is in an exciting phase. 55
000 US barrels (a US barrel is 190 litres; a UK barrel is 163) were
exported last year, and increase of almost 50%, with the UK a major
market. We began with a taste of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, the beer
that started the explosion in US craft beer in 1980. Today, Sierra
Nevada tastes quite tame: it’s nice, well balanced and has
attractive hoppy flavours, but compared with the current crop of US
IPAs, it comes across as shy and reserved. But this beer was seen as
extreme in 1980. How times change.
In 1980 there were only eight craft
breweries in the USA; by the mid 1990s there were about 600. Now
there are more than 2000, with 900 in the planning stages. Of these,
about 1100 are brew pubs. 800 are package breweries, and 65 can
‘Craft’ beer has been defined. To be
a craft brewery you need to be independent and make fewer than 6 000
000 US barrels. You can’t be owned more than 25% by a non-craft
The roots of the movement? In the 1970s
president Jimmy Carter took away the ban on home brewing and many
people came out of the closet. From there it has taken off. 7.2% of
beer sales in the USA last year were of craft beers, and total
production was 160 million US barrels.
The creativity of the US craft brewers
has started to have an influence on the European brewers. ‘Without
the Americans, we wouldn’t have any proper IPAs today,’ says
A new move is for craft brewers to use
cans, which are normally associated with cheap beer. 170 breweries
in the USA are now doing cans only. The cans are lighter and protect
against oxygen and ultraviolet light. They are 98% more recyclable
than glass, and easier for transport.
Sierra Nevada/Russian River Brux
A collaboration between Sierra Navada and the Russian River Brewing
Company, this is refermented in the bottle with Brettanomyces
bruxellensis. Wonderfully aromatic, spicy and a bit animal on the
nose. Sweetly herby with some cheesy notes. Rich, warm, spicy palate
with lovely freshness and some tangy characters. Just brilliant.
Alyn Williams matched this with the
sweet and sour flavours of charred pear, Mersea wild oyster and some
Somerset cider jelly. He added some sour Gueuze beer to the sweet
cider to give it an edge. The combination worked nicely.
Stones Imperial Russian Stout, 2012
release, San Diego
10.5% alcohol. ‘Thick, rich and sinful’ is how this is described
on the bottle, and it is meant for ageing. Amazing chocolate,
coffee, spice and anise nose. The palate shows thick, rich flavours
of chocolate, spice and liquorice, with some bitterness. Amazing.
This was matched with foie gras (confit,
frozen, then shaved) with warming flavours of caper and raisin
matched with cauliflower, together with caraway brioche. The beer
almost overpoweringly rich, but there is some synergy.
Odell Brewing Company Footprint,
9.5% alcohol. Odell used ingredients from all 10 states they are
distributed in for this beer. These are wheat, oats, barley, oak,
honey, green chile, corn, rice, prickly pear and hops. It’s highly
aromatic with floral passionfruit notes. Beautifully floral and
exotic. The palate is rich and hoppy with lively flavours and some
bitter and sweet notes in perfect tension. Fresh; not at all
cloying, with notes of orange, grapefruit and citrus. 9.5/10
This was matched with aromatic brined
cod cooked for a long time, coated with miso and served with fresh
peas in a pod. Brilliant dish, but the footprint was a little too
much for it.
Ska Brewing Company Decadent Imperial
IPA, South Colorado
10% alcohol. Rich orange/gold colour. Very sweet, richly
aromatic nose with honey, spice, passionfruit and peach, with some
savoury sweet soy notes. Malty and rich but also savoury and meaty
notes. Very smooth and sweet showing lovely complexity and some
subtle bitter pine notes. 9/10
This was matched with 24 h cooked pork
belly (suckling pig), fennel prepared in three different ways, an
orange curd made with olive oil, and truffle. The idea was that the
complex, sweet flavours of Decadent needed something fatty, and also
with a wide range of tastes to counter the diverse flavours of the
beer. The orange curd worked really well with the beer.
Labyrinth ‘Crooked Line’ Black
13.2% alcohol. Brewed with liquorice sticks and aged in rye bourbon
barrels. It combines the roasted malts of a dark ale with the hop
profile of an IPA. This is a truly remarkable, deeply coloured beer,
showing sweet, pure malt, chocolate, liquorice and coffee aromas.
The palate is rich and viscous with amazing depth of flavour:
liquorice, toffee, dark chocolate. Astonishing concentration. 9.5/10
This was served with a meadow sweet
panna cotta, together with blood nectarine and fresh almonds.
Meadowsweet is slightly medicinal, but is wonderful in custards and
with fresh berries. The nectarines were roasted, peeled and the
skins were candied.
Boulevard Brewing Company Sixth Glass
Quadrupel Ale, Kansas City
10.5% alcohol. Inspired by the Abbey beers from Belgium, this is
warm, rich-textured, bold and smooth with nice fresh spiciness.
Creamy and rich with lovely lush, sweet flavours, but also a bit of
lively saltiness. Very Belgian in style. 9/10
Paired with walnut whip, garnished
with a bit of ‘Mayfair bling’ gold foil. The match with the
walnut flavours is brilliant.
Allagash Brewing Company Coolship
6.6% alcohol. A spontaneously fermented lambic style of beer,
this is incredible. Amazing, lively, tangy citrussy nose with
powerful apple and citrus notes, as well as some dairy hints. Really
fresh and tangy with complex, sour, slightly funky flavours.
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