Men with Odd-shaped Balls Drink Brains with Food, Shock

“Sorry I’ve come so formal”, said Simon, removing his tie. Frankly, I couldn’t have cared less. I had no idea what to wear, myself. I also had no idea who else was going to be there. Everybody else was in the dark-grey suit. Nice that somebody should care to dress for dinner, but all I cared about was it was a beer dinner given by Brains Brewery and I wanted to know what the menu was and how a range of thoroughly British beers would cope. Especially with dessert.

Simon wasn’t a solicitor, but Mark was. I told them I wrote about beer, they looked quizzical as I confessed my curiosity about what the choice of dessert beer would be. “Dessert beer?” I could see flit momentarily across their consciousnesses before they moved on to the more pressing subject of by how many points Wales would beat England by at Twickenham on Saturday. This was, after all, a dinner for The Wales in London club.


We finished our welcome drink of bottled SA Gold, and followed it with a half of the cask version. (They preferred the bottled.) Before we could discuss the finer points of spear tackling or American craft brewing, we were called in to dinner. I found myself next to Bill Dobson, head brewer at Brains. Briefly, ex-Wales international centre and British Lion Tom Shanklin joined us, until he realised he wasn’t Beer Magazine editor Tom Stainer and went to find where he was supposed to be sitting.

Tom Shanklin’s seat was taken by Melissa Cole, beer writer and tonight’s beer co-MC with Bill Dobson. Melissa was also responsible for choosing the beers to go with each course. Something of a relief I’ll admit. You see, as much as I love and champion beer with food, I’m more used to a wider variety of styles than is usually available from a large-ish British regional brewer. Bill and Melissa guide us through each course pairing throughout the evening.

However, a quick straw poll of the assembled diners revealed that beer dinners were not the norm for the Wales in London members, unless several pints of Kingfisher were the chosen accompaniment to a chicken Madras. Best not to freak people out with a Rosé de Gambrinus lambic, then.

Here is the non-vegetarian menu and its chosen beer.

Ham hock, Pommery mustard, and parsley terrine with homemade piccalilli.
Paired with:
Brains Milkwood

Confit leg of Gressingham duck, fondant potato, aromatic red cabbage & sherry vinegar jus
Paired with:
Brains Bread of Heaven

Chocolate and raspberry mousse with berry coulis
Paired with:
Brains Original Stout

Brains Beers with Posh Dinner: The Verdict
The Milkwood was new to me, and the nutty and slightly spicy maltiness (from rye crystal malt), was a good match for the ham terrine. The beer has another slightly unusual ingredient in malted oats, which I imagine, contributed to making it feel a bigger beer than its 4.3% ABV might suggest. A touch of sweetness too, as a go-between for the piccalilli, which was refined and tart, but not like the famous jarred version that resembles toxic waste. Would a touch more complexity from a heavier hand with the hops been even better?

Duck confit just seems like perfect pub food. It’s slightly salty richness needs a beer to lighten the palate and quench the thirst. Melissa pointed out the cherry(stone?) note in the Bread of Heaven was a much better idea than overwhelming the meat with actual cherries. She was right. The red cabbage was a bit too much for it, but the oddly, the sweetness in sherry vinegar jus found the fruit in the beer, picked up the ball and ran.
“Bread of Heaven, feed me ’til I want no more! (Respons-i-blyyyy)”…

And so to dessert. I had almost guessed it would be a dark beer with chocolate, but I hadn’t guessed that Brains Original Stout was a mere 4.1%. Half the strength of the Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter I go on about in these pages (and as I did to Simon and Mark). Sensibly, the chocolate mousse with which it was paired was not so intense as to smother the beer, and I was so glad to see it served in a goblet rather than a boring beer glass. All the better to show off the coffee and chocolate aromas in the beer.

It worked then, I’m pleased to report. Not that I managed any kind of scientific survey, but from comments made during after-dinner speeches from honoured rugby guests Tom (Not Stainer) and Robert Jones for Wales, and ex-England full-back, now orthopaedic surgeon Jonathan Webb, I’d have thought this evening resulted in 100 or so more converts to the cause that drinking good beer with good food is a great idea. You don’t have to have outrageous beers, and you don’t have to wear a tie.

Brains Brewery’s beer range
More pics and comments on Maltjerry’s flickr site
Melissa Cole’s Blogspot

A British Icon Smashed, or the Emperor’s new Glassware?

“Drivel, utter drivel,” commented “Chuffy” on 27th January, in response to a piece in the Guardian entitled “Calling time on the pint glass”. What was it that raised Chuffy’s ire? Another daily newspaper’s pathetic attempt at writing about beer? Hardly! The byline was Ben McFarland, current British Guild of Beer Writers’ Beer Writer of the Year, so at least some beer-informed people think he knows what he’s talking about.

But 990 people agreed with Chuffy. The comment earned him (surely it is a “him”) nearly one thousand “Recommendations” (Guardian-speak for “Like”). He was not alone in his opinion either: 997 people agreed with George999x, “You lot live on a different planet. Long live the pint glass!!” said George999x. Perhaps his likers included George001x – George996x, who knows.

Ben’s article dared to suggest that the standard pub pint beer glass, known as the nonic, is not the best vessel from which to appreciate the beverage for which it was made. Ben accuses the nonic glass is made for the landlord’s (and the brewery/pubco’s) convenience. He goes on to suggest it is ugly, not best suited to a lot of beers on grounds of flavour and aroma, and, it holds too much beer, he throws in, just to make sure there are no short measures.


MaltCim shoots a selection of our glasses*

No prizes for guessing I’m on Ben’s side. Regular Nightjar readers might remember one of my non-resolutions/predictions for 2012 is to champion beer served in less than a pint. “Think big, drink small” I wrote. The late, great comedian Linda Smith is quoted in another comment, “A third of a pint? That’s not a drink, that’s homeopathy.” Funny, but a gross misrepresentation of homeopathy. However, if ever there were a subject worth grossly misrepresenting…

Smaller measures for bigger beers, is what I’m saying. And so does Ben, but he goes further, asserting that different shaped glasses bring out the best in different beers; especially those with plenty of aroma. But let’s allow that some people can’t or won’t care about such matters. Let’s talk about aesthetics, because smart-looking glasses sell beer.

Why did people suddenly develop a taste for Peroni? Their standard lager flies out of the taps at my local Ember Inn. Can it be anything to do with the glass? It’s seductive, sculpted curves, etched along its length with the Peroni logo.

I’d wager a mixed case of Kernel to a half-empty can of Fosters that there are crowds of people who would rather drink a Stella Vier from its continental pilsner glass than anything in a nonik. I bet your average young beer drinker – man or woman looks at the holder of a nonic glass and thinks, “Sad, old fart”. 

Of course, there are cool, branded pint glasses: Adnams and Ringwood have attractive pints that are a bit more than merely nonics with a logo stuck on. Of the national ale brewers, Fullers tries the hardest, with a different design for all of it’s major ales. But they are all pints. The wonderful ESB goblet: a glass for savouring an ale of 5.5% would be even better in a two-thirds measure.

So let me grant that Chuffy and George999x were partly right: the nonic is a British icon, but one that needs clasting. Pints will still be served, we will still drink them, but the nonic needs an extreme makeover. A new model army of brothers is needed in order to make beer of all styles more attractive in the pub, and acceptable on the dinner table.

Ben McFarland’s original article in the Guardian: Calling time on the pint glass
Fullers range of pint glasses
Do yourself a favour and buy Kernel beers from Beer Merchants
The Nightjar’s Wishes for 2012

Thanks to MaltCim for the photo.
Back, left to right: Fullers ESB goblet, Stockholm Festival 2009, Brew Wharf sampler, Stockholm Festival 2010.
Front: Lagunitas fruit jar, & private stock Gentle Giant etched US pint mug.