Of Fripp, Howe, quail, and beer made for Sunday roast

Roast quail with Sharp’s Connoisseur’s Choice Honey Spice Tripel and Wadworth’s Beer Kitchen India Pale Ale

“There are no mistakes, save failing to learn from a mistake.” So said Robert Fripp, guitar guru with progressive rock legends King Crimson. Now, if that is true of playing music, it’s doubly true of cooking. Triply true of pairing your food with beer. You can’t really call yourself a cook unless you can rescue a culinary flop in real time. Equally, how would you know what beer goes with what unless you’ve matched a few frogs?

2012 has seen British brewers really catching on to partnering beer with food. And some, including Sharp’s and Wadworth’s have even brought out beers developed specially for the dinner table, which fine establishments saw fit to send The Nightjar some samples. I thought I’d better come up with some dinners to match their efforts.

Stuart Howe, not Steve Howe of progressive rock kings Yes, is Sharp’s head brewer. From his fevered imagaination sprang the Connoisseurs Choice collection of beers. I’m not surprised to find it’s not your average take on beer styles. The 2011 range is made up of Single Brew Reserve, Honey Spice Tripel, and Quadruple Ale. You just have to be impressed with the attention to detail in the brochure, not just glossy, but with thought put into the tasting and brewing notes. This really is how high-quality craft beer should be presented.

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Wadworth’s Beer Kitchen beers ranges even wider: from Wheat Beer, India Pale Ale, Orange Peel Beer, Whisky Barrel-aged Bitter, and finishing up with Espresso Stout. Sounds like a menu in itself. To show their commitment to the beer with food idea, they have put together a standalone  website for these beers, with a page with some basic beer and food matching tips.

I chose the Sharp’s Honey Spice Tripel and the Wadworth’s Beer Kitchen IPA for Sunday dinner, and then I started to think about the food. I decided they’d be great with some juicy roast quail, for their sweet, meaty flavour without being gamey. Fat and flavoursome yet light meat: just shouting out for beer matching.

Quail are much easier to catch these days
Waitrose usually obliges, just to the right of the chicken. They might be farmed but are still exotic enough seem a bit fancy, and south of the River (Wey), instead of a hunter’s shotgun, a bargain hunter’s budget will do, so often are these fine birds marked down. It can’t hurt either that quail are quite simple and quick to roast.

I seasoned the birds inside and out, sprinkled them with freshly-chopped sage (a good herby foil for hops), and covered them each with a rasher of streaky bacon – more for the flavour and to keep the sage in place than for any larding effect. Into a small roasting dish with a couple of lemon quarters, which roast nicely to give a grilled, semi-sweet tartness.

After 20 minutes or so in a 200 degree C oven, with the quail rested, veg prepared, I thought the pan juices need extending with some left-over Chardonnay. (Not a good idea, as it turned out.) And so á table with a wine glass for each of the beers so MaltCim and I could easily compare the outcome.

The outcome
The Honey Spice Tripel is intense. It shows off its honey lacing without parading it. There is a sharpness of grilled lemons, which bodes well for my dish, to balance out the mouth-filling richness of malt, sugar and honey. The juicy, but barely gamey quail, however, was somewhat overpowered, and my sauce needed to be a good deal more unctuous. This is not to reflect on the beer, rather a reflection on a misjudgement on my part. Stunning beer, stunned quail.

The Wadworth’s Beer Kitchen IPA faired a good deal better. Although at first blush, it seems a more straightforward brew, it has  charm and a depth that lends itself to drinking with food. There is a typically English peppery hop character both on the nose and the palate that suited the quail very well. Bitter enough to cut through the fattiness of the roast quail and adding a spicy note to complement the sage. The “winner” today.

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So if the quail and the Honey Spice Tripel combination turned into a bit of a frog, it was only down to the food not matching the intensity of the beer. Stuart Howe has delivered a beer that has a combination of delicacy and power – something you might find in a new world Chardonnay, but which I’ve rarely found in a British beer.

As I finished the last forkful of quail, I was already thinking of the next roast: to see if I could do justice to the Tripel. Perhaps a honey-mustard glaze sauce would suit. Or a darker bird like pigeon. I might not have come up with the ideas without my “mistake”. I hope Mr Fripp might nod in approval.

Next episode: British cheeses with Fullers Vintage Ale, Sharp’s Connoisseur’s Quadruple Ale, and Wadworth’s Beer Kitchen Orange Peel Beer

Links
Sharp’s Connoisseur’s Choice range
Wadworth’s Beer Kitchen page