Beer on Saturday Kitchen again, yet room to grouse

You wait forever for BBC to wake up and smell the hops on Saturday Kitchen, but just a few weeks after choosing BrewDog’s 5AM Saint red ale to break their beer/food pairing duck, along comes another beer/food pairing. I wrote about it here.

Olly Smith selects Harviestoun Schiehallion Pilsner beer on Saturday Kitchen

Olly Smith shows his beer credentials on Saturday Kitchen. (Screen grab from BBC iPlayer)

Matt Tebbutt is again the host (coincidence?), Tom Kitchin is the guest chef, and the drinks expert is “Jolly” Olly Smith. Tom is preparing, somewhat controversially, a pan-fried grouse breast with watercress mayo and black pudding. It’s for brunch. What would Olly pick?

Olly: “When I prepared the dish, you know, it’s a celebration of Scotland and I’ve chosen Harviestoun Schiehallion, which is a craft beer, an award-winning Pilsner, phenomenal quality.

Matt: (In ham horror) Beer?!

Olly. Yeah I just think the quality of beers these days is right up there. It partners beautifully with the dish, but it’s brunch…  At 11 o’clock in the morning, you might want something a little more refreshing [than red wine].

According to Olly, the crisp defined beautiful flavour reminded the brewer of being up in the freshness of the Scottish mountain from which it takes its name.

Matt: What do you think of the beer?

Tom: I think that’s a revelation, I think that’s perfect.. A beer like that sets up the weekend perfectly.

Why Olly chose a lager like Schiehallion

Schiehallion Craft Lager from Scottish brewery Harviestoun

Schiehallion Craft Lager from Scottish brewery Harviestoun

The classic choice, as Olly mentioned in the programme would be a red wine like pinot noir. Setting aside the “brunch” aspect, you’ve got to have something with enough oomph to go up against the bold flavours of grouse and black pudding. Pizzazz in the form of bubbles are also what’s needed to cut through what is essentially a fried dish. Oh, and then there’s the peppery watercress mayo for even more richness.

What you want is something crisply dry and refreshing. Champagne fits that requirement, but so does a flavourful, dry Pilsner-style lager like Schiehallion. It has the palate-cleansing bubbles and enough hops to give a bitter dryness and aroma. Schiehallion boasts of being the “Champagne of lagers”, and with tasting notes that include “tropical fruit” and grapefruit, you have a beer that gives you the cutting edge the dish needs. And with the distinct advantage of costing £1.49 for a 33cl bottle.

A lager like Schiehallion works its crisp, refreshing, palate cleansing, cutting brilliance just as well at 8 PM as it does at brunch or indeed lunch. As an alternative, you could pop down to Marks and Spencer. They have a fine range of craft beers that includes Fourpure Pils Lager. Despite being one of the modern brewers on the Bermondsey beer mile, their pils is a more classically flavoured example, with German and Czech hops. Will do a very similar job as the Schiehallion, which I suspect includes some hops from the US.

Why the beef about grouse?

The grouse’s habitat is moorland. To prevent myself from going way off topic, I am just going to say that some moorland management appears to carry out dubious practices. Moors (in the UK) get managed but to the detriment of species other than grouse, particularly raptors. There are probably some good guys, and maybe that’s where Tom Kitchin gets his grouse, but for us, it’s hard to know. There are arguments about how much income grouse shooting brings to moorland estates, but I’m not convinced. Until such time as I can see something equivalent to “dolphin-friendly tuna”, I will substitute other birds. A pity, grouse has a fabulous flavour. Pigeon breast would be worth trying instead.

What about Sunday Brunch, then?

Even I am conscious that this blog pays too much attention to Saturday Kitchen when Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch regularly gives time to raising the profile of good, interesting beer. I will go into that another day. But these recent beer and food pairings on what often seems like a wine ad feels like a small step victory.

Tom Kitchin cooked his grouse with the aim of showing game is accessible to all. Choosing Schiehallion to go with a dish so redolent of class division shows that with beer, good flavour is not down to whether you’re driving or shooting the grouse.

Notes and links

Watch the programme on BBC iPlayer until 11 October (UK only). Jump to about 45 mins in for the cooking demo, or to 55:40 for Olly’s description of the beer:

Get the recipe:

Olly Smith had a programme, Ale Trails, on the Travel Channel devoted to his search for great craft beers in the US:

Schiehallion described on Harviestoun’s website:

London’s Fourpure Brewing Co. Pils Lager:

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