Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain highlights beer and food together

“The French can stick their wine up their arse”, says Jamie Oliver. Wow! what could have caused this outburst in Episode 2 of the Channel 4 series Jamie’s Great Britain? Would you believe because he tasted a recipe for mussels in which beer was used instead of wine? Of course you would, but let’s see what led to Jamie’s road to Damascus experience. 

After I had a bit of a moan about Observer readers voting for bars with bergamot vodka cocktails, I was delighted to hear from @newviv that beer features in an episode from Jamie Oliver’s latest Chanel 4 series. If, in the Observer’s UK they would rather have Hanky Panky (cocktails) in a Soho bar, it’s great to know that there’s a place for beer in Jamie’s Great Britain.

“Jaime travels to Yorkshire to sample Yorkshire pudding and ale”, runs the blurb on the Channel 4 website. And if that conjures up an image of the dreaded cliché of flat caps and whippets, then you haven’t reckoned with the trademark Oliver twists. 15 minutes into the show, there’s a short bit in a pub involving said delicacy, and then he is off to the up-and-coming Leeds Brewery, a city micro not five years old.


Jamie Oliver at Leeds Brewery’s flagship pub The Midnight Bell

Mention of Yorkshire brewing legend Timothy Taylor and cricket “guru” Geoff Boycott get us rolling and then Jamie and his crew take us on a short tour of Leeds Brewery and on to one of their pubs. The cooks there are “re-inventing pub grub using different beers in whatever they can make”. We are told: “At least half of the dishes on the menu are cooked with some style of beer. “Everywhere where wine would go, we try and put beer instead.” For example, bacon and black pudding in a salad with a dressing made from an ale reduction.

Jamie says, “As with wine, beer can offer a totally different flavour to food depending on how it’s used and where the hops come from”. The cooks here use hops from America, Eastern Europe and “Good-old Blighty”. Jamie learns that English hops are “more mellow”, American are “more in-your-face and light” (I think he said), and the Eastern European hops are “perfumed”.

There is a mussel dish in which Leeds Pale ale, with its Eastern European hops, is used where white wine would traditionally be, in a version of moules mariniere. It is at this point that Jamie informs the French about vino-rectal insertion. Even I wouldn’t go that far – and certainly not on camera, but Jamie does, and in one sentence brings a credibility to the beer-with-food cause that a thousand emails to Saturday Kitchen never could.

Cut to the pub table to show some finished dishes: sausages with beer, the salad with beer dressing, and beer and onion soup – all served (and I hope, paired) with beer. That might not appear radical at first, but in any normal pub, the dishes would be made with red onion gravy, wine vinegar dressing, and perhaps cider for the soup. By not being too wacky, this pub wins people over by demonstrating beer’s easy affinity with food in recognisable combinations.

Jamie concludes the piece by demonstrating a Persian-inspired dish of lamb shanks that includes beer. I’ve made it myself, so come back and hear how I got on.

Jamie Oliver makes a point of his being brought up in a pub, and it’s good to know cavolo nero and porcini haven’t caused him to forsake the hop and the malt. And if the popping sounds you hear in kitchens across the land take on a slightly different character, you know cooks are taking to heart (if not rectum) Jamie’s instruction.

Thanks to Sam Moss at Leeds Brewery for use of the photo.

Jamie’s Great Britain Episode 2, About 15 minutes in.

Leeds Brewery’s flagship pub The Midnigt Bell

Leeds Brewery

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