La Tamalada Sola del Londinium
December 22, 2009

Vegan Sushi. But where's the beer?

I’ll admit I have a hard time with the whole food matching thing.  Most of the time I drink beer without food. I consider it my pud, my afters.

I am health conscious, maybe to a fault.  This beer hobby is taxing on the body, let’s face it.  But I’ve never seen eating healthy as a sacrifice– it doesn’t have to be.  But you’d  never get this by looking at foodie writing or even beer blogs.

Consulting other experts on food matching leads one to meat-and-cheese heavy ideas. Hot Knives, from California, are an exception to this, though often their recipe ingredients and beer choices are difficult to find in London. Reading their blog I’m reminded that I learned to cook and love beer in a place that’s culinarily alien to most Brits.  My voyeuristic glimpse of the British Guild of Beer Writers annual dinner had me thinking Caligula would have blushed, or at least the courses could have featured as a chapter in the Decadent Cookbook.

In London the availability of beautiful, fresh produce rivals choice in Cali– and yet vegetables and grains are considered afterthoughts, peripheral to the “real” food which is flesh. In a time when we are all thinking green, and when cheap meat will cost plenty in terms of our environmental future (let’s not think of the smoking piles of mad cow by the fin de siècle motorway here in the UK or the recent H1N1 from the viral incubator of a US factory farm), it just makes sense to rethink the centrality of meat and its pairing with beer.

With that said, I need to learn to food match, and I need to do it yesterday.

The other day I made vegan sushi, pictured above.  I had this idea that BrewDog’s Movember, with its mild manned yet hoppy character would be perfect.  Big mistake.  The soapy nose really wrastled with the ginger in a most unpleasant way.  Everards Sly Fox would have worked well, but it’s not something I can nip round the corner to get.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about Crouch Vale’s Wild Hop, which I had in during a lovely day out in Cambridge with Jesus John and Claire.  It was a beautiful beer, made with hops gleaned from hedgrows, with a mild, chamomile character, and it would have gone perfectly well with the sushi.

Tamalada, by Carmen Lomas Garza

Though, this year, I have one beer matching success.  In Aztlan, or the part of Cali I consider home, it’s traditional to have a tamalada or tamale-making party at Christmas. It’s something I never did when I lived there, as it was easy to get tamales around my neighborhood.  I never knew how to cook them until homesickness dictated I learn.  In past years I’ve smuggled masa and corn shucks home in my suitcase.  One year I mail ordered the ingredients from a gourmet shop and nearly went broke.  This year my friend Alice found a Mexican importer near Columbia Flower Market where we found all the ingredients necessary, with still enough money to buy beer.  If we count the food miles here I might as well be chopping down a rain forest, Paul Bunyan style.

Tamale making is a two-day process.  I was complaining to my friend El Chavo that it felt lonely to do it solo, and he said that it could be a time for quiet contemplation.  This year I perfected my recipe and I shared the finished tamales with more London friends than ever before. I served them with BrewDog’s Trashy Blonde and it was gorgeous, the sweet fruity character balancing well with the smoky-earthy corn cakes.  (I also made some hibiscus and lime infused wassail for full-on cultural hybridity, and that went over well.)

Tamales, pre-steamer

I’d like to think that this is a new London tradition in the making, and that next year I will have friends join me in the tamalada and we can find the perfect beer to drink while making them (an intense Christmas ale!)

So, what are you doing this time next year, mis tamaleros-in-arms?

Advertisements

All the cool kids are doing it.
March 20, 2009

Brew Dog Hardcore IPA and my metal face.

Brew Dog Hardcore IPA and my metal face.

Yesterday I tried to go to the London Drinker Festival but the queue was 100+ people deep and it was packed inside.  It looked like a queue for a nightclub– not an un-ironic facial hair in sight. I’m thinking they were all students from the nearby university.  I ended up at a pub with a friend drinking Tribute next to a table of screechy white wine drinkers, wondering if I’ll ever really get the hang of living in London, where even small pleasures like a beer festival are overrun with other humans, and crowds are the norm.

To soothe my angst, today I drink alone.  What do I drink, you ask?  Why, it’s that beer with pornographic promise, Brew Dog’s Hardcore IPA. After reading Mark’s tasting notes I immediately ordered some.

Wortwust will no doubt see me as a betrayer, drinking what can only be described as hop juice.  The most significant sensation from all this is not just the lingering bitterness but the real alcohol warming in the belly.  This is one comforting beer, which is strange because the brewery’s tasting notes are gleeful with hyperbole:

It just completely and utterly screws you over.  It is like being raped by a hop monster! Yet somehow it is difficult to leave it alone. The 9% makes your head go fuzzy, the warm tingling adds to the confusion. This beer messes you up so much you want to keep on drinking it just to try and figure out what is going on.

At  150 IBUs I have to wonder if I am just getting used to massive hoppage?  Because I have had hoppier beers.  Stone’s Ruination and my friend Bob’s dry hopped beer he made while in the Netherlands were serious pallet f*ckers, but this one doesn’t coat your mouth in hop oils.  There’s definitely room for other flavors here and I call that a win.

Hops are an acquired taste.  I used to hate hoppy beers, and then something clicked.  I had a hop breakthrough drinking Crouch Vale Amarillo, and I realized I would be craving these flowers forevermore. There isn’t much concept of a moderate session beer in the brews I really take to.   Maybe if I came of age quaffing ales in sessions with mates these beers would be impractical or a “sideshow.”

This particular beer is definitely a hop panorama, like putting your face in a potpouri bowl of hops.  The mouthfeel is peppery, a gentle effervesence releases the esters.  There is a very brief melon roundness that is immediately seared, dried out.  It’s all here– the rose petals crushed by the footfall of pine and grapefruit peel.  Whatever sweetness is just left on the lips to dry there. You could almost forget this is carrying the whole thing.

There is barely any malt character to this beer but do I care?  No.

As for food matching, right now I am craving a Thai spicy green curry, or corn chips with black bean, jalapeno and mango salsa.  Call me crazy but I’m also thinking a chili-marinated halloumi burger with beet slaw would rock.  But I have none of these things so the real test will have to wait.  I have two more bottles after all.