Full Steam ahead…for a few real ales whilst being transported through time and the Hampshire countryside on the Mid Hants Real Ale Train.

In my last blog I talked about hitting a scary landmark birthday. The trauma of reaching this age was made not just bearable but a joy by all the wonderful and thoughtful gifts I received – I am a very lucky hop flower!

So as well as being treated to a Korean cooking course (If you don’t know what I am talking about, please see my last blog) last weekend I was taken for a trip on the Real Ale Train or to use it’s nickname the RAT in Hampshire for a few real ales whilst being transported through time and the Hampshire countryside.

taking you down memory lane with a vintage style of old railway posters, signage and furniture.

The RAT’s location is the restored steam locomotives on the Mid Hants Railway known as the Watercress Line after the local cargo it used to take to London. There are four stations on the ten mile line, each taking you down memory lane with a vintage style of old railway posters, signage and furniture. Such is the charm of this picturesque line that it has featured in films and TV including my favourite Midsomer Murders plus Countryfile and a Richmond Sausage ad to name just a few.
RATs are held on most but not all Saturday nights from February through to the beginning of December and feature different breweries either local or from neighbouring counties. Last Saturday night it was the turn of Triple FFF , Hammerpot and Downton – no TV connection…

step back in time before the days of Networkers

Triple FFF Brewery who being in Alton couldn’t be more local to the RAT have been brewing since 1997. They offer a comprehensive range of core beers and seasonals with interesting names such as Pressed Rat and Warthog, Comfortably Numb and Dazed and Confused.
Based near the Sussex hamlet of the same name is the Hammerpot Brewery. Set up in 2005 Hammerpot have brewed award winning beers and take great pride in their local heritage.

Over the Wiltshire Border, the Downton Brewery use some interesting ingredients in their beers such as fresh apples, Coriander and locally grown pumpkins.

I wouldn’t fancy pouring pints on a moving train!

As the trip was booked well in advance we each got a voucher for a free beer as it seemed did most of the other passengers as immediately upon boarding most people headed for the carriage where the real ale was served. Rather handily this was the next carriage from us so although we were initially hemmed in by keen and thirsty real ale drinkers, the queue actually moved quickly. In fact throughout the evening I waited just seconds to be served such was the efficiency and dexterity of the bar staff – I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t fancy pouring pints on a moving train!  
Being seasoned pros at this drinking business we had lined our stomachs with an early dinner at the White Hart in nearby Holybourne where we were staying the night. Hot food is available on the train however plus there is a separate bar serving wine and a selection of bottled beers including some from local breweries which also has a selection of crisps and chocolate bars should you get the munchies.

so to the beers

So to the beers, I kicked off with the 3.9% ABV Quadhop from Downton. A refreshing pale bitter with a nice dry finish.
I then moved on to Hammerpot’s Shooting Star Bitter 3.8 ABV which had great citrus notes but also a touch of spice.

New beers were added during the evening one of these being Triple FFF’s award winning Moondance. At 4.2% a lovely hoppy pale. Loads of floral notes from cascade hops and very drinkable!

I finished the trip with Hammerpot’s Bottle Wreck Porter, 4.7% ABV. Bottle Wreck has also won numerous awards including Champion Beer of Britain, Porters category, at the 2012 CAMRA National Winter Ales Festival. It has warming rich notes of burnt coffee but being a porter was not overly heavy.

Also available on the real ale bar at various points during the evening were Hammerpot’s Red Hunter, Downton’s Honey Blond and their Pumpkin Ale plus Cirrus Minor Cider from Mr Whitehead’s Cider Company.

We arrived back at Alton at around 10.30pm and did the mile walk back to the White Hart where we continued our evening. 
Obviously if you are into good beer and/or steam trains you will love the RAT but if like two of our group you aren’t into either the RAT is still a wonderful night out. The atmosphere was lively and friendly and who doesn’t love the sound of a steam train letting off steam?

If I have inspired you to take a journey on the RAT be aware this popular event sells out well in advance so have a look at the website for booking details. The RAT is timed to get back to Alton Station in time for the 10.44pm to London Waterloo but there are later trains.  

If you fancy making a weekend of it I would recommend a stay at the White Hart. We walked the mile to Alton Station but cabs are available. The White Hart menu is fantastic. Pre RAT I had a cheese and bacon burger with delicious chips washed down with a half of Manx Brewery O’Kells Bitter – yes half I didn’t want to peak too soon after all!   The traditional fried breakfast I had Sunday morning set me up for the day. Clean rooms, great staff in a village pub serving a good selection of beers surrounded by countryside walks – what a great place to complete the weekend!

The RAT is a fun evening out. As mentioned the staff were excellent and the beer selection excelled my expectations. Think I’d better book for 2017!






Hooked on Korean food! – always on the lookout for new and interesting beer and food pairing ideas.   The HopFlower spends an evening at London’s School of Wok

I reached a momentous birthday in July. I won’t spell it out but let’s just say my Dad was lucky enough to go to Wembley and see Bobby Moore lift the World Cup when I was just a week old…

Some lovely friends wanted to buy me a birthday gift but I struggled for ideas as having reached such a ripe old age there’s little that I need. I decided instead that good memories are the perfect present and asked for vouchers for the School of Wok cookery school in London.

I love cookery courses. I enjoy cooking but moreover I am always on the lookout for new and interesting beer and food pairing ideas. I have previously done an Indian cookery class in Delhi and a Basque class in San Sebastian.  

A little bit closer to home near Charing Cross Station, along the road from the excellent Harp pub, School of Wok had caught my eye as they offered Korean Cookery classes.

I should explain the opportunity to visit Seoul arose a few years ago as my brother was lecturing there at a university summer school. He had a free week before he came home and an apartment on the campus so I bought an inflatable mattress and booked a flight.  

Seoul is a huge city with a fascinating mix of modern, traditional and residential architecture fringed by mountains and temples. The people are friendly and the food is amazing.

On my first morning in Seoul we went to a restaurant and had Mung bean pancakes which were heavenly. That was it – I was hooked on Korean food!

Whilst in Seoul we spent many evenings in a tiny local bar which appeared to be run singlehandedly by a woman who didn’t speak English so we quickly learnt how to ask for two beers in Korean. I can ask for beer in four languages other than English but otherwise hello, goodbye and thank you are pretty much the extent of my bilingual talents – shame on me!

We were drawn to this particular bar as it had the great feel of a local. We were always greeted with a huge smile. It was common to be given a bowl of peanuts in Seoul bars but here the lovely woman went one step further and gave us bowls of cherry tomatoes and whitebait as well. Locals were served huge platters of cooked food produced from behind the tiny bar –this woman was an amazing host!

I have to be honest and say the beer wasn’t outstanding but it was cool and refreshing which in the heat of Seoul in June did the job!    

Bulgogi – Meat on fire!

Since my Korean trip I have made the occasional trek to the South West London Suburb of New Malden which being home to a large Korean community has excellent and reasonably priced Korean restaurants. I have also dabbled at home but almost finished off my other half who has adverse reactions to spicy food. So I thought it was time I had a lesson from the experts.

School of Wok hold a range of classes in Oriental cookery but wanting specifically Korean I booked myself on their Korean BBQ and Kimchi three hour course. I was joined by seven other students, a mixture of ages and nationalities all keen to learn about Korean cookery. Our teacher for the night was the warm and friendly Yun Ko.

So with nothing scarier than a chop stick in sight iI allowed myself a couple of bottles of Tsingtao

After a lesson on how to use a scary looking cleaver we chopped vegetables, ginger and garlic for the Bulgogi marinades. Bulgogi is a Korean speciality. Yun told us it literally means ‘meat on fire’ . When making the marinades however you can adjust the seasoning to your taste.   We made one marinade for beef Bulgogi which had a base of Soy Sauce and another for Spicy Pork Belly Bulgogi which based on Korean Chilli paste was a more glutinous marinade.  

Next we made little dumplings stuffed with minced pork. Although this looked fiddly as the idea is to manoeuvre the pork and chopped seasoning into cigarette paper-thin wrappers made from dough it was surprisingly easy

Finally Yun gave us a Kimchi making demonstration. Another Korean staple, Kimchi is all about fermentation – like beer! Yun mixed mooli (a type of radish) a mixture of spices and seasoning, raw oyster and shrimps with chopped cabbage. The addition of raw seafood may sound scary but it gives freshness to the Kimchi. In Korea communities gather to make huge quantities of Kimchi for the winter which improves as it ferments. Kimchi is an acquired taste but definitely worth trying.

Throughout the evening we were offered drinks although I delayed hitting the beer until all cleaver use was over. So with nothing scarier than a chop stick in sight I allowed myself a couple of bottles of Tsingtao.  

We cooked the Bulgogi on table top BBQs. A great sociable way of eating

The evening finished with us sitting together devouring the food we had prepared. The dumplings had amazingly stayed in one piece and were delicious. The delicate flavour was not overpowered by the Tsingtao and the carbonation sliced through the dumpling wrapper. I think the dumplings would pair very well with a flowery Blonde Ale such as Siren’s fragrant Love of Work. A sensible ABV of 3.6% with notes of Earl Grey Tea which would complement the dumplings beautifully.

We cooked the Bulgogi on table top BBQs. A great sociable way of eating which reminds me of Raclette – without the bread and cheese but you get my drift.  

The beef Bulgogi marinade was the lighter of the two so we had this first. Not too spicy but flavoursome, this had notes of sesame oil and soya sauce. We had decided to add an extra touch of ginger to give it a bit more sweetness. With this I would suggest The Kent Gipsy’s Yuzu. A collab beer from Gipsy Hill Brewery and Kent Brewery containing gorgeous Sorachi Ace hops. Yuzu is a pale blond cloudy ale with an ABV of 5.2% and notes of coconut and lime leading to a dry palate-cleansing finish.  

We then cooked the Spicy Pork Belly Bulgogi until it started to crisp a little. This was delicious, quite a bit hotter than the beef but not too high up the Scoville scale for me to handle. The Korean chilli paste gave this marinade a richer slightly creamier mouthfeel and taste. The Tsingtao cooled down the spice but given the choice I would pair the Spicy Pork Belly Bulgogi with a beer which has the ‘belly’ to stand up to it such as a good full bodied IPA . I had a can of Northern Monk’s Heathen with the pork belly leftovers from my doggy bag the following night which worked well. The Heathen has the hoppiness you’d expect from an IPA but not to the extent that it overpowered or distorted the Spicy Bulgogi. With an ABV of 7.2% Heathen is robust and has a good amount of sweetness to complement the caramelised pork belly. Pepper notes in the finish also complement this dish perfectly.

If you are looking for a Christmas gift for someone in your life who has everything or fancy broadening your cooking skills I would recommend School of Wok. And maybe pop into the Harp* for some beer pairing inspiration….

 * Please see the August edition of CAMRA publication London Drinker for a tribute to Binnie Walsh, who was the long time owner and licensee of the Harp 









Let me take you down the A303, to a selection of Skinner’s wonderful beers, their swanky new labels and the stories that inspired them.

Sometimes the old adage ‘If it aint broke, don’t fix it’ doesn’t ring true and this I would say is the case for Cornish Brewery Skinner’s who in recent months have given their beers a funky new look.

I love Cornwall. I have visited many many times and always find it hard to leave this wonderful county. Well I say county but as an outsider my observation is that being ‘Cornish’ is in fact an approach to life – an ethos if you like. Economic factors and the wildness of the weather can make life in Cornwall tough. Many of the people I have met in Cornwall possess a pragmatic yet almost spiritual approach to life. This paired with the creativity which seems to ooze from every corner of Cornwall make it a spellbinding place.

The new labels are little works of art!

In this creative vein Skinner’s have collaborated with six artists to produce a new set of labels for their award winning core range. Skinner’s, a family run brewery just outside Truro town centre have been going since 1997. The new labels they have created are little works of art!

The artists include Stevie Gee who has designed for Fashion brand Vans, Rose Forshall whose work has featured in The Times and in one of my favourite shops Anthropology plus Nick Beringer who having designed the original Betty Stogs has given her a makeover – well of sorts. Nick has been involved in Skinner’s since it began so knows Betty well and rather than glam her up (perish the thought) this brazen woman has been given a new sparkle and is now shown holding court rather than the lone figure she once was.

So let me take you down the A303, past Stonehenge into Kernow and to a selection of Skinner’s wonderful beers, their swanky new labels and the stories and backdrop that inspired them.

First up the woman herself Betty Stogs. Cornwall is known for being the land of myth and legend and the story of Betty Stogs is one of a somewhat lazy woman whose baby was always grubby and had only Betty’s cat for company most of the time. One day the ‘Small People’ took the baby and cleaned it up before leaving it on some moss for Betty to find. Not before Betty’s husband had returned home however and he was pretty angry with her.  

This story has a happy ending as Betty learnt from this episode and became a more attentive parent.  

Described by Skinner’s as a ‘Brazen Cornish Ale’ this Betty Stogs however is in no way shabby. Amber with a lacy head and a 4% ABV she has a nose of caramel and malt. Once you start drinking Betty the malt notes continue accompanied by dry woody notes. I would love to sip Betty Stogs with a Cornish Pasty – of course. Either traditional or cheese and onion would work. Just beware of the seagulls and maybe the mythical ‘Small People’!

Fancy something lighter for a day on the beach? Try Skinner’s Lushingtons Sunshine Pale Ale.  

Now in my experience the weather in Cornwall, even at the height of summer can be a bit hit and miss and I know having lost my car in the terrible Boscastle flood twelve years ago. But when the sun shines and it does, there is nowhere better to be than on a Cornish beach such as Crackington Haven or Trebarwith Strand with a Cornish Ice Cream.

Lushingtons Sunshine Pale Ale has a wonderful new label reminiscent of a Hawaiian shirt- you know the sort worn by some of us in the 80s and often seen at the GBBF.  

The label sets the scene perfectly depicting blue sea surrounded by orange and red skies.
Lushingtons has an ABV of 4.2%. Grassy and hoppy on the nose, this beer does not have a heavy mouth feel so is a great session beer. With jammy notes and hints of lime it’s perfect with that Ice Cream or a Cream Tea.

Lushingtons Sunshine Pale Ale has a wonderful new label reminiscent of a Hawain shirt

Step things up a notch to an ABV of 4.8% with i, which Skinner’s describe as an ‘Untameable Pale Ale’. Very lively out of the bottle Porthleven has a citrus kick that hits the back of the mouth.  

Skinner’s recommend Porthleven be paired with spicy food, kebabs or smoked meats – I love a brewery that include informed food pairing notes on their labels so kudos to Skinner’s for this. I would enjoy kicking back and watching surfers such as the one on the label in the Cornish sunset with a Porthleven and either fish and chips or some locally caught Mackerel-perfect! I guess the ‘untameable’ reference is a nod to the Atlantic. Famed for surfing but is certainly not a force man will ever tame no matter how well we surf.

All I would need to finish off the perfect day would be a visit to the Cobweb Inn, Boscastle for a few more beers and some live music. If you are in the area the Cobweb is one of the best pubs I have ever been to and worth spending at least one evening in. The evening may well turn into the following day but a full Cornish breakfast and a bracing stroll on the beach and you’ll be as right as rain.

Once recovered should you fancy picnicking on some sandwiches of locally caught crab I would suggest you grab a bottle of Cornish Knocker.  

Skinners describe Knocker as a ‘Ground breaking Golden Ale’ which is a clever play on words. Named after fabled creatures that feature in Celtic mythology but are particularly prevalent in Cornish folklore, the Knockers were said to knock on the walls of mines. This knocking was believed by some to be a mischievous act designed to cause the wall to cave in (hence the ‘ground breaking reference). Others however believe it to be a benevolent warning to miners that they were in danger. I feel the need to explain this in case you have images from old fashioned seaside post cards in your head…

Cornish Knocker is Skinner’s Golden Ale with an ABV of 4.5%. Mango aromas lead to a crisp, fruity ale with a short snappy dry finish.

As well as collaborating with artist, Skinner’s worked with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of River Cottage and came up with English Pale Ale (EPA)

EPA has floral notes from the cascade hops it contains. It also manages to combine notes of wood and malt. The result is a nice mix of sappy dryness and a soft woody finish. For me a perfect partner to a lump of Cornish farmhouse cheese.

Skinner’s worked with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and came up with EPA

So many great things come out of Cornwall and beer is certainly one of them. Skinner’s range with their witty and clever new labels does not disappoint and although widely available don’t wait for them to come to you. If you have a chance to visit GO WEST!














The Rio Olympics are here so we should enjoy the sport with a beer or two. Read on to see why I was inspired to find out about Elgood’s beer this summer.


The Rio Olympics are here as is our summer so despite what sometimes feels like constant rain and cloud we should enjoy the sport with a beer or two.

Many months ago in (slightly) chillier January I was asked to name my favourite beer of 2015.

This was an impossible task for me as I could never pick one beer as a favourite.   What beer I want to drink depends on factors such as what I am doing, where I am and if I am eating or simply out for a session.

So instead I choose a standout beer from 2015, something a little different…Elgood’s Coolship Fruit.


In my blog last summer when I judged at the SIBA South East Region beer festival in Tonbridge I eulogised about Elgood’s Coolship Fruit which I blind tasted. Coolship deservedly won Gold in the Keg Speciality beer category and Bronze in the Overall Keg Champion of the competition.

I was bowled over by Coolship’s refreshing qualities.   A real summer beer if such a thing exists-seasonal beers, now there’s a whole different debate…

Now I am not normally a huge fan of fruit beers.   I feel the myriad of flavours that are thrown up by different combinations of water, hops, malts and yeast are plentiful.  There are of course exceptions and Coolship is one so I was inspired to find out a little bit about Elgood’s beers as a result of tasting this wonderful fruit beer for the first time.

Elgood’s who are based in Wansbeck, Cambridgeshire have been brewing since 1878 at the North Brink Brewery. As well as the brewery they have amazing gardens which can be visited on various dates during the year as part of the National Garden Scheme.   They hold craft and plant fairs and Jazz events – I love a brewery that diversifies as I feel this makes the brewing industry more accessible to all of us including non beer drinkers who hopefully can be converted!

Elgood’s have a comprehensive range of beers including Bitters, Pale Ales, Scotch Ales and Milds as well as the two sours; Coolship Fruit and Coolship Blonde.

They also have their QE – Quintessentially English, Bottled Beer range. Launched in 2013 the QE range features a stout and two fruity wheat beers; Apple with Vanilla and Cherry.


So if you fancy something a bit fruity to sup with the Olympics here’s my take on Elgood’s fruit beers:

Coolship Fruit – ABV 5% A pink beer with a thin head and a nose of brambles.   Coolship Fruit is a refreshing sour Lambic style beer.   In order to achieve the tarty sourness Elgood’s use the traditional method used in Belgium to produce Lambics of fermenting the beer in open ‘boats’ or in Elgood’s case open cooling trays, known as coolship trays.   Elgood’s have two coolship trays and I hope to see them one day as I think this is a fascinating brewing method.   The beer is basically left in the trays to spontaneously ferment using wild yeasts from the atmosphere.  This might sound scary but it’s an established method which produces fine sour beers to which fruit can be added.   In the case of Coolship Fruit raspberries and blackberries are added.   A fellow beer judge at Tonbridge last year remarked that Coolship would be wonderful on a summer’s evening and I couldn’t agree more.   Paired with Fruit flan or dark chocolate this is a wonderful beer that I would happily dive into whatever the weather.

Not fruity but also a great sour beer is Elgood’s Coolship Blond.   Slightly acidic and tart I found this beer simply danced on my tongue with notes of sherbet and a warming finish from the stronger ABV of 6.1%

If you don’t fancy a sour the fruit wheat beers in Elgood’s QE range are also excellent:

QE Cherry Wheat Beer 3.6% ABV – so very easy to drink!   This beer which contains both cherries and raspberries is a lovely scarlet pink colour with a pink foamy head.   Sumptuous cherry verging on almond notes in this rich beer would pair beautifully with game or if you have an exceptionally sweet tooth, try a drop with bakewell tart.


QE Apple and Vanilla Wheat Beer 4%.   Not surprisingly if you like cider I think you will you will love this.  A golden beer with a thin lacey cream head, QE Apple and Vanilla is sweet and has Rhubarb and custard notes but with a slightly bitter finish.  I feel this beer benefits from chilling as this accentuates the vanilla notes and gives it a slightly drier taste.

Elgood’s have won numerous awards for their beers in addition to the two Coolship won at the SIBA South East Region beer festival.   Let’s hope Team GB can bring home a medal or two!



South Tonbridge WI Beer and Food Pairing

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!


Tonbridge Brewery’s Dave as he set up the Beer

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.


Green Hop Capel Pale

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!


Tonbridge Brewery’s Ebony Moon Porter; a lovely smooth porter.

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.



The South Tonbridge WI members keenly taking up the offer to try Tonbridge Brewery’s Winter Solace


Ferrari, Pasta, Chianti, Fabio Cannavaro….When you think of Italy, beer isn’t normally what springs to mind.

A beer revolution has been under way in Italy. Micro breweries have been springing up for around twenty years and the good news is not only is Italian beer great but it’s becoming more accessible here in the UK.

In the past I have enjoyed Italian beer at Ham Holy Burger located on the third floor of John Lewis in Oxford Street. If like me you enjoy burgers, you will love the food at Ham and there is an interesting selection of beers from two breweries, Baladin in the North West of Italy and Birra del Borgo based in Borgorose – a small village between Lazio and the Abruzzo region.

With my burger I had Birra del Borgo’s Keto Reporter which is a great porter made all the more interesting by the addition of tobacco.

It is worth mentioning that owner of Baladin and Italian craft beer pioneer Teo Musso is responsible along with another top Italian beer expert Lerenzo Dabov, nicknamed Kuaska for creating the TeKu glass. The TeKu is shaped to allow the aroma of the beer to hit your nose and the taste to be at it’s optimum.

Opperbacco's 4 Punto 7 served in a TeKu glass

Opperbacco’s 4 Punto 7 served in a TeKu glass

I have also enjoyed Italian beer at the GBBF – see my blog on this year’s GBBF, and I have bought bottles of Italian beer from Beer Boutique in Putney which is a handy fifteen minute stroll from my office.

Now I happen to know that the Italian beers I bought from Beer Boutique are supplied by Beers of Italy, a London based supplier of Italian craft beer set up by Andrea Mancuso.

Eager to promote Italian beer Andrea and his team got together with Italian Beer Sommelier Jacopo Mazzeo and Tozi Restaurant and Bar, in London’s Victoria to hold an Italian beer lunch last week. Having attended this wonderful event I feel obliged to share my findings with you all so that you too can discover the joy of Italian beer.

Italian Beer Sommelier Jacopo Mazzeo introducing Italian beers at Tozi

Italian Beer Sommelier Jacopo Mazzeo introducing Italian beers at Tozi

The featured brewery of the lunch was Opperbacco, a micro brewery in the Abruzzo region of Italy, founded by Luigi Recchiuti, a graduate of Agricultural Science who started off as an enthusiastic home brewer.

Often using locally sourced ingredients such as honey, the Opperbacco range is comprehensive with interesting hybrids and collabs.

We started with a lovely salad of roast fennel, carrots, beans and spelt, along with Calamari paired with Opperbacco’s 4 punto 7. With Simcoe, Columbus, Amarillo, Perle and Saphir
hops this beer although inspired by a German larger Jacopo told us resembles British ale.

With grass notes in the nose and a light malty, grassy taste this was a great beer to start with.

We moved on to Tripping Flowers. Named after a rock band also from the Abruzzo region, Tripping Flowers contains local flowers and honey. Orange in colour, the flowers and honey
are detectable in the nose. This is a fresh tasting beer that manages to combine sweetness with malt. Paired with Crab Ravioli in a creamy tomato and basil sauce Tripping flowers uses it’s petals to slice through the sauce beautifully!

Tripping Flowers paired with Crab Ravioli in a creamy Tomato and basil sauce

Tripping Flowers paired with Crab Ravioli in a creamy Tomato and basil sauce

Next up the Eipiei paired with Aubergine Parmigiana, a satisfying dose of Italian comfort food which the beer complemented. Served as all the beers were in a TeKu glass, Eipiei is bronze with a foamy head, hops hit the nose and the tongue gripped by dry hoppiness.

We then moved on to the Buffalo Ricotta Ravioli with Black Truffle, a wonderful earthy dish served with L’una rossa, an amber beer with coconut and cherry notes. The earthiness of the truffle gave the L’una rossa a slightly sour note and I have to say I preferred the L’una rossa paired with the pork cheeks served with Cavolo Nero and mash that we were treated to next. The fruit notes in the beer complemented the pork beautifully.

L'una rossa, an amber beer with coconut and cherry notes

L’una rossa, an amber beer with coconut and cherry notes

Next came the cheese and oh what a cheese it was! Cow cheese with Barolo grapes. This cheese is dense like cheddar and not at all crumbly. A layer of grapes gives the cheese
amazing subtly fruit notes.

Paired with this amazing cheese was Triplipa. A gold beer with a creamy lacy head and a nose of pear drops and yeast. This pairing worked really well as Triplipa is a slightly sour, dry beer. The carbonation cut through the cheese and left my palate ready for more!

Triplipa and Cow's cheese with Barolo grapes

Triplipa and Cow’s cheese with Barolo grapes

Finally we were treated to a hit of chocolate with a Coffee and Amaretto Bonet. A gorgeous chocolate dessert with a mousse-like consistency. This little piece of chocoholics heaven was paired with my favourite beer of the lunch Dieci e Lode. A dark beer with a mild coffee nose – I knew this was a good sign. Dieci e Lode is a rich warming beer but maintains a lightness. A wonderful beer to sup slowly.

Rich warming Dieci e Lode with a little piece of chocoholics heaven

Rich warming Dieci e Lode with a little piece of chocoholics heaven

The food at Tozi was amazing. Head chef Maurilio Molteni has in the past worked with Antonio Carluccio so I knew it would be good but and every dish we had was wonderful.

All the beers were perfectly at home with the food

All the beers were perfectly at home with the food

All the beers were perfectly at home with the food demonstrating the wonderful flexibility of beer as a companion to food.

Cin cin!

From exotic fruit to world class beers – M & S on a high street near you

First Beer Tasting

First Beer Tasting

According to my research in 1968 they started selling avocados – exotic for the 1960s and possibly in part responsible for the unfortunate fashion for avocado bathrooms in the 1970s. A bit more conservative, in 1981 sandwiches made an appearance on their shelves for the first time and talking of conservative in 1986 they received an endorsement from the Iron Lady herself. When asked where she bought her underwear Margaret Thatcher apparently replied “Why, Marks and Spencer of course. Doesn’t everyone?

Back in the here and now, last month that great British Institution Marks and Spencer’s were named Retailer of the Year at the International Beer Challenge for the second year in a row.

M & S’s beer sales have increased by 41% since last year and as well as awarding M & S the Retailer of the Year title the International Beer Challenge also awarded 27 medals to the M&S range including a gold medal for their Mosaic Pale Ale.

Good news indeed as when this was announced I had just been invited to the first M & S Autumn Craft Beer launch.

my local hero!

my local hero!

I had already seen the vast range of beers in M & S shops. It’s not unusual to see supermarkets selling own brand beers brewed with breweries these days. Morrison’s and Sainsbury’s have stocked a range for some time. This is great as the beers are decent and brewed with well know breweries such as Ringwood and Shepherd Neame. They are priced very competitively too.

What stands out about the M& S range however is the breweries they have worked with. Independent outfits such as Hogs Back, Sambrook’s and Westerham so I was very keen to familiarise myself with the range. And with fifty three beers what a range it is! The selection includes a Craft range and a Single Hop range as well as their own brand bottled beers range which comprises beers from all over the UK and Belgium and includes gluten-free beers.

The team responsible for bringing these beers to M & S tell me all the beers are blind tasted so chosen for their quality rather than by brewery. All the bottles feature food pairing suggestions and have featured in M & S’s Dine In offers.

Eye catching and appealing

Eye catching and appealing

Particularly eye catching is the branding of the craft range. The labelling is designed to look like brown paper with bright text and logos-contemporary design that’s eye catching and appealing.

I headed for the craft collection first trying the Five Hop Lager produced by Hogs Back Brewery who are based not too far from me in Surrey. Hogs Back brew the wonderful stalwart TEA and also in their range is the adventurous Montezuma’s Chocolate Lager.

Their Five Hop contains Fuggles, Perle, Centennial, Herzbrucker and Tethanger hops. The result is a golden lager with notes of corn and malt. Light and easy drinking at 4.5% abv and available in 568 M & S stores so you should be able to get hold of a bottle.

Sticking to Lager for my second beer I had the wonderful Ash Brook Red Lager 4.7 abv from Freedom Brewery, a micro brewery in Staffordshire. This rich red lager has an emphasis on
malts with three used, two of which are organic. It is an unusual rich lager with notes of caramel and toffee. I really like this take on lager which was awarded a Silver medal at the International Beer Challenge.

It should also be noted that both these lagers are vegetarian and vegan friendly.

Next I had Island Hopper Pale Ale 4.5 abv which was awarded a Bronze at the International Beer Challenge. Produced by Windsor and Eton brewery Island Hopper is so called as it containshops from both Britain – Sovereign and from New Zealand Nelson Sauvin. I could really taste the gooseberry from the latter in this pale straw coloured beer which would be great if you want to convert a white wine drinker to the beauty of beer, especially a vegetarian or vegan as this beer also ticks both these boxes.

Another local Hero

Another local Hero

Another Bronze winner from the Craft range is the Battersea Rye 5.6% abv from Sambrook’s. A great beer which skilfully combines fruity notes from Bramling Cross hops with a malty backbone.

And finally from the Craft range one of my favourite, if a little contentious beer styles, the new Black IPA 6.5% abv from the Purity Brewing Company.

It’s actually more brown than black with an attractive lacy head. This IPA contains smoked, crystal and black malted barley as well as malted rye. The hops used are Cascade and Chinook. This IPA has a full bodied mouth feel, possibly from the rye with smoky and woody notes which suggest to me the Chinook hops are a more dominant.

Next I decided to move along to the Single Variety Hop beers and I had to try the Mosaic Pale brewed by Adnams as this won a Gold medal at the International Beer Challenge this year.
Mosaic’s nose is bursting with hops and the taste is really good with earthy, grassy notes. At 4.2% and available in 562 M & S this should go down a storm.

First in line for a gold medal

First in line for a gold medal

Moving closer to home I helped myself to a glug of the 9 Hop Kent Pale Ale from Westerham Brewery – living so close to Westerham how could I not?? But I should confess I had
previously bought this beer at my local M & S and I am not surprised it was awarded Silver in this year’s International Beer Challenge.

9 Hop has a beautiful fresh hop taste and coming from someone who has been enjoying the finest Kent Green Hopped Beers recently that says something of this beer’s hop character. 4% abv so easy drinking and available in 588 stores.

Second to Kent in my heart is Cornwall so I couldn’t resist the Bronze medal winning Bottle Conditioned Cornish Red Ale from St. Austell Brewery. Being the first brewery I ever visitedmany many years ago I have a soft spot for St. Austell. At bit stronger at 4.9% this Red Ale has a good rich flavour with notes of candied sugar. It obviously makes the journey up the A303 well too as it’s available in 503 stores.

It was getting late and my fellow beer tasters were beginning to leave so I decided it was time to hit the home run with two special beers I had been saving till last.

As THAT time of year is approaching I tried the new Southwold Christmas Ale also brewed by Adnams. A rich amber beer with mild Christmas cake fruit notes. It’s good to see a Christmas beer that isn’t simply stuffed with nutmeg or other spices and at 4.2 abv one you can enjoy for all twelve days of Christmas if you do so desire.

Finally I headed for the Monnet Cognac Barrel Aged Greenwich Ale. Ales aged in spirit barrels are a favourite of mine and for six months a portion of this beer was aged in M & S’s
own Monnet Cognac barrels. Brewed by Meantime, this 6% brown ale has a red hue and a nose of Christmas cake. Lighter than a lot of barrel aged beers I have tried, this ale has a pleasant level of carbonation and with notes of candied fruit and malt is an extremely accessible barrel aged ale. The 750ml bottles are presented in a attractive tube and retailing at an incredible £6 the Monnet Cognac Barrel Aged Greenwich Ale makes a fantastic Christmas stocking filler.

Fantastic stocking filler

Fantastic stocking filler

Talking to team responsible for these beers it’s clear they share my enthusiasm for bringing excellent beers to the masses and predominantly British beers at that. And it’s easy to see why so many of the range were awarded medals at this year’s International beer challenge.

As mentioned Christmas is on the horizon so for a little bit of early Christmas shopping, or some ‘research’ for those Christmas tipples take a leaf out of Maggie Thatcher’s book and
head to your local Marks and Spencer’s.


Kent Green Hop Beer Time

So it’s that time again- the fourth Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight.
This year over twenty Kent breweries have produced Green hopped beers for the fortnight which kicked off on Friday 25th September.
For the uninitiated Green hopped beer is beer made with fresh hops rather than dried hops or pellets.
It’s fitting as Kent has a heritage of hop growing. The national hop collection is located near Faversham and varieties such as East Kent Goldings and Fuggles are local lads – or should I say lasses as its’ the female hops that are used for beer.

Just some of the Green Hop Beers on offer

Just some of the Green Hop Beers on offer

Living on the edge of Kent and London as I do I know I have the best of both worlds. I can be in central London within half an hour – I’ve made it to breweries in Hackney in less than an hour before now. But also I can be in the Kent countryside within ten minutes.
As I thundered through the countryside on a train to Canterbury last Saturday I felt very lucky to be so close to this beautiful landscape not to mention all the produce it yields – lavender, apples, locally produced meat and of course hops.
We have a great and varied landscape here in the UK; the panoramic flatness of Norfolk, the wild ruggedness of north Cornwall and the lush green rolling hills of Shropshire and Wales for example but I adore Kent. Farms, green fields, wooden weather boarded houses and I spotted an Oast house as my train left Sevenoaks. And much as I love London I can’t help wishing this was my daily commute instead of the journey I make each day to Wandsworth.
But I digress so back to the purpose of my journey. The start of Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight coincides with the Canterbury Food and Drink festival every September. The festival is held in the Dane John Gardens, a short walk from both Canterbury East and West train stations. My final destination was the beer tent dedicated to the Green Hopped Beers.
Enjoying the Green hop beers at the foot of the mount.

Enjoying the Green hop beers at the foot of the mount.

This year the gods were smiling down on us as despite being almost October the sun was shining and no jacket was required. Being British however I never the leave the house without an umbrella so had a telescopic brolly in my rucksack- some may call me pessimistic, I prefer realistic!
There was a good selection on offer at the green hop beer tent and here are my recommendations:
Ever reliable Goody Ales have three green hop beers this year. I had the Good Harvest, an Amber Ale with a 3.8% abv. Good Harvest has a malty backbone and with good carbonation and a clean hop taste is refreshing on the palate.
Also very good is the Green Giant from Kent Brewery. An IPA with an ABV of 6%, Green Giant is extremely easy drinking with sweet malt notes. East Kent Goldings are used in this beer making it spicy and exuberant. Nice!
Making their Green Hop debut are my friends at the Rocking Robin Brewery. There had been doubts about the availability of their beer Hop Rock It for Saturday due to the hops – our great British weather strikes again! Hop Rock It was ready however and received good reviews. An Old English Ale, Hop Rock It is a darker ale which is good to see amongst the Pale and Golden Ales. A rich malty beer which I enjoyed. I look forward to trying it again in a week or two when it will be at its peak and I hope in my local micro pub One Inn the Wood.
Whilst there is a good choice of Pale and Golden ales plus an array of best bitters I love a dark beer and before heading home tried Pig a Porter’s Strangely Brown, a Porter at 4.4%. Looking good with a creamy head, Strangely Brown is a smooth balanced beer with roasted barley notes. Fabulous!
Finally from the Canterbury Brewers at the Foundry I had Harvest Night. A Black IPA hopped with East Kent Goldings. Harvest Night has great carbonation with smoky bitter notes. I really liked Harvest Night so it was good to finish on a high.
Green Hop Bar

Green Hop Bar

Kent Green Hop Beer Fortnight runs till 11th October. Saturday 10th is East Kent Open Day when five breweries throw open their doors to the public. There is a bus service which can be booked online so see the Kent Green Hop website for details and a list of locations where you can get Green Hop beer.
These beers are very special and unique so take this opportunity to celebrate Kent’s great beer and hop heritage.

Cheers as we say in these parts!

Brewhive – Novel idea, beers only available on line.

Brewhive – Novel idea, beers only available on line.

Brewhive contacted me asking if I’d be willing to try their beers and provide feedback. I of course agreed.
A new set up the Brewhive website offers advice about glassware and food pairing-always good to see. There is also a blog. See brewhive.com
Box of hoppy promise
Brewhive’s beers are currently brewed in C & C’s small batch brewery in Ireland. C & C are a huge company who own brands such as Bulmers, Blackthorn and Magners-hence Brewhive also have a cider in their range. C & C also have the Tennents brand and a range of soft drinks.
Brewhive have only gone into the mail order market so you cannot get their beers anywhere else including any pubs. This they tell me is so customers have an ‘exclusive experience’.
Brewhive also tell me they hope expand their range creating some new beers including some limited edition collab brews with small breweries – exciting times!

So to the beers. The packaging is good featuring a nice simple hop inspired logo but I am not as keen on the branding on the bottles if I’m allowed to be picky. The bottle labeling is however helpfully colour coded – Green for IPA, Tan for Porter and Gold for lager.
The Line up

So to the beers. As I do probably 90% of the time I start light and work my way up so step up the first beer:

Blond brew – Pilsner, I really like this. I am a big fan of lager and spend a lot of my time telling people – beer and non beer drinkers alike that lager is a ‘proper’ beer type and not the devil’s work as some beer drinkers would have you believe. With a creamy head and a nose of bread and sweet corn, this Pilsner has a good rounded mouthful. The sweetness hit me first followed by grainy and slight vegetable notes. A great light refreshing lager.

Endeavour IPA – A very drinkable amber beer. Doesn’t have the hop hit or strength that I look for in an IPA. Nether the less a perfectly quaffable ale which would be a good session.

The one I had been looking forward to the most – The Chocolate Malt Porter. Just pouring this I could see that it’s got good body to it. Pitch in colour with characteristic red hints of a porter when held to the light. Coffee bean nose which continues to the taste. This porter has good carbonation giving it lift and also has a lovely month feel. Very nice!

Finally the cider (red label) – I am no expert on cider so I don’t feel qualified to judge other than to say it was a nice fruity cider and also very drinkable – good summer drink.

Good luck Brewhive. I look forward to your future brews.

Silly hats, beer themed tee shirts, pork scratchings… yep it’s that time of year again, CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival – hurrah! 

Last year my blog about the GBBF extolled its virtues as a great day out.  I still believe this to be the case as the myriad of food stalls, games, stuff for sale and the family room make the GBBF a great destination.

Upon entering the great hall at Olympia I found it impossible not to feel exhilaration- the smell of tomato ketchup and burgers, the cheers that rung around the entire festival whenever a punter smashed a glass, the fantastic Neville Staple Band AND hundreds of beers ! Utopia indeed.


During my first visit I stuck to thirds and tried eight UK beers.  Of these the three stand outs were Great Orme’s Welsh Black, a smooth and rich Mild.   Rocking Robin’s golden ale with a prominent hoppy character Rock A Hula was superb although I have to declare an interest here as my friend of more years than I care to remember Stuart Osgood is a brewer at Rocking Robin.   Nevertheless I hope that you trust my judgement when I say Rock A Hula is a great beer.  I was also mightily impressed with Shepherd Neame’s new Spitfire Gold – a sweet floral golden ale that is to become part of Shep’s core range.   In fact on my second GBBF visit on Friday night not only was the Shepherd Neame stand ‘the place to be’ where groups gathered and danced around but their I love beer tee shirts appeared to be the ‘must have’ GBBF purchase as whole groups of people bought and immediately donned them.

Now in the past I have pondered the place of foreign beers at the GBBF. It is the Great British Beer Festival after all so why include beers from places other than Britain?   More than ever we have a wealth of home grown beers to choose from.  I have mixed feelings about the presence of Perry and Cider as these are both very popular but Wine??? Judging by the very bored look on the faces of the staff manning the wine stand I believe my doubts regarding its inclusion may be justified.

Having spent the Tuesday session sampling UK beers however I decided to stray outside the British Isles metaphorically speaking and try some foreign beers on my Friday night visit. The theme of the GBBF this year was Discovery after all.

So having travelled to Olympia on a typically grey, misty and wet Friday afternoon in August my whistle stop world tour began.

I decided to head south for my first choice so from sunny Italy I tried a bottle of Birrificio Menaresta’s 2 di Picche. A 6.8% black IPA with smokey treacle notes and a sappy aftertaste.

My only quibble is the price of the bottled beers with some as much as £10. Also given that excellent bottled beers are available all year round from many beer outlets I decided to stick to draft beers thereafter.

The ever popular USA stand was down to just four draft beers so for my second beer I went stateside for Deschutes Brewery Bend Public House’s Bachelor Bitter. 5.3% with a nose of candied fruit this bitter had rich toffee and marmalade notes but to my taste a little lacklustre with zero carbonation.

Flying back to Europe I decided to bypass Belgium and go instead for a Dutch draft beer De Dochter van de Korenaar Belle Fleur, a rather nice dark gold cloudy IPA

From Holland I popped over the border to Germany for a Helles from Klosterbrauerei Andechs.  Andechser Vollbier Hell is cloudy gold beer with a creamy head; this Helles has a nice level of carbonation, and is creamy with grainy and malty notes – a smashing refreshing beer.

Finally heading home I paused briefly in Guernsey for a White Rock Pushang.  At 3.8% this golden beer with malt, caramel and a sweet honey finish is a great session beer.   Get this while you can though as it’s a limited edition.

The popularity of beer is global.  In addition to the countries I ventured to the GBBF featured beers from places as diverse as Iceland, Japan and Jamaica.

Of course we are spoilt for choice here in the UK for great beers but I believe it’s good to try the offerings from overseas and different takes on familiar styles.  It makes me proud to see the British influence so often obvious in the beers, the Bachelor Bitter for example contains East Kent Goldings.

It would have been nice to sip the 2 di Picche black IPA on a veranda in Lombardia or enjoy the thirst quenching Helles in a balmy night in Bavaria but for now the refuge of Olympia on a drizzly Friday will more that do!