Formed in April 2015 the South Tonbridge Women’s Institute have proved an instant success with a membership in excess of 100 and a waiting list of another 50 keen would be members.
I agreed to give a talk at the November meeting on the joys of Beer and Food Pairing. The numbers where slightly daunting as my tasting events tend to average 25 to 30 people but with potentially three times this number of people to talk to its lucky I enjoy a challenge!
Now after setting a date next quandary, where on earth could we get our hands on a range of beers for so many people??
Tonbridge is in Kent – the garden of England which as well as being hop growing county has a healthy number of cracking breweries. Large concerns such as Shepherd Neame and a host of micro breweries so I was determined to find a local brewer to help. Up step Tonbridge Brewery who were happy to supply us with a range of three beers including their 2015 Green hop Capel Pale.
After lots of emails between branch President Becky, Dave from Tonbridge brewery and me we had arranged delivery and tapping of the beer at the hall. I should confess initially Dave had thought me capable of tapping the beer but I had to swallow my pride and ask for his help. Not handy with a mallet I had visions of it all going horribly wrong and me wearing rather than drinking the beer…
So the 10th November arrived and I set off to Tonbridge carrying jugs for dispensing the beer to our huge audience and a few empty plastic milk bottles just in case we had any left overs to give to members to take home.
I arrived to find Dave surrounded by curious WI members as he set up the beer for tapping. Between us we got the beer ready. Dave had brought enough Tonbridge Brewery glasses to go around along with bar towels and beers mats. These he said could be taken home by members – what a great memento!
Dave had also brought along a mini keg of a new beer Tonbridge Brewery had brewed called Winter Solace. This he explained had never been brewed before and they were keen to get feedback – an exclusive – how exciting!
During a brief introduction to the audience fearing I had my work cut out I asked how many of the audience regularly choose beer if having a drink and how many never choose it. I discovered to my delight that a lot of the women present did drink beer with very few saying they had never tried it. Maybe this would be a breeze after all!
We poured the first beer, Blond Ambition 4.2%. A great thirst quenching blond ale; this was a very popular choice with the WI members many of whom commented that it was refreshing and a great summer beer. I like that they didn’t allow the small fact that it is November to interfere with their enjoyment of Blond Ambition.
We served the Blond Ambition with mini popodoms explaining to the audience that pale ales are great with spicy food as they calm and refresh the palate.
Next we paired the Green Hop Capel Pale with cheddar.
Cheese as you may know can be hard to digest so pairing it with beer makes digestion easier – like a good chutney but more fun. But more than this the right beer with cheese is just a natural combination the gods have bestowed upon us. In bucolic times farmhouse products such as bread, cheese and beer were often made if not by the same person in close proximity and complement each other beautifully. Despite our sophisticated 21st lifestyle this natural order of things has not changed as far as I’m concerned.
Being a green hop beer Capel Pale had a fabulous fresh hop taste. Tonbridge Brewery use Pilgrim hops, an early hop which they source from Capel Farm. Weighing it at 4.5% I really liked Capel Pale. A nose of grassy, cedar notes with a resinous grassy taste.
The audience were divided with some preferring the Blond Ambition and some favouring the Capel Pale and appreciating the unique quality of green hop beers.
Our third beer of the night was Tonbridge’s Ebony Moon Porter 4.2% which we paired with fudge brownies – heaven!
Ebony moon is a lovely smooth Porter with fruit notes from Bramling Cross hops. This was received really well with members of the audience commenting that it had never occurred to them to pair cake with beer but yes they loved it!
Sadly time beat us in the end but after the meeting I invited the WI members to try the new Winter Solace, an offer that was keenly taken up by many.
Winter Solace is inviting red – brown Winter Ale. Containing Vienna and Chocolate malts with a smidging of Crystal Rye and a blend of spices provided by a mixture of cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg and Orange zest. These spices and the hops – Pilgrim and Bramling Cross, give an interesting blend of spice and fruit notes. The finish is one of warming spices and chocolate. A good winter beer which isn’t at all heavy.
I managed to take some of this home and found the longer it stayed in the glass the richer and smoother it becomes. This would be a fantastic supped from a brandy glass paired with a strong cheddar or stilton.
Huge thanks to the Tonbridge Brewery for all their help and for the souvenirs and thanks to the South Tonbridge WI for inviting me and being such a wonderful enthusiastic audience.