I’ve often lamented the lack of good beer shops in London. I’ve not done any research to see if there actually are any other than Utobeer in Borough Market, but that’s never stopped me having a good lament. I do like lamenting. Anyways, while wandering around Whisky Live London I bumped into drinky PR queen Su-Lin Ong who, on discovering that my booze related obsession was not confined to the realms of whisky, invited me along to a supperclub at Fulham Palace Road beer specialist DR.iNK. As she’d just helped me blag my way onto the The Glenlivet balcony for a taste of the 1964 vintage (the most expensive whisky I have ever tried) it would have been rude to say no.
Opening May 2010, DR.iNK, generally referred to using the more sensible name Drink of Fulham, is run by Shrila Amin and was set up with the help of her cousin Jayesh Patel of Westholme Stores in Oxfordshire – a Londis that has rather expanded on its usual corner-shop remit into being a rather well stocked beer shop. Along with the walls full of beer Shrila and her sisters sell a variety of homemade food, cooked to Gujarati recipes. The Gujarat is a western Indian state to the north of Mumbai with lots of good growing territory and the food from the region continues that theme with lots of vegetarian recipes. However, it seems that there’s not much of a tradition of being chefs and as such we don’t get much in the way of Gujarati food turning up in restaurants over here.
One of Shrila’s most recent ideas is to put on a supperclub in her flat above the shop, combining her family’s cooking with beer from downstairs to put on a beer tasting with matched food. Helping her with the beer selection and presentation for the evenings is Alex Barlow of All Beer, master brewer, writer, brewing consultant and self proclaimed beer missionary. Their plan for the evening was for us to try five Gujarati dishes, all vegetarian (although Shrila herself is not veggie and the curry paste that she sells at DR.iNK goes well with meat), each with a pair of beers to compare, and then another couple of beers to bookend the food. Shrila’s sisters manned the kitchen while 16 of us sat around in the front room, a mix of locals, Shrila’s friends, Alex’s family, and a few beer loving bloggery types.
The first beer of the night was Mort Subite Gueuze, brewed in the village of Kobbegem near Brussels. It, as with all gueuze, is a lambic beer, meaning that rather than being fermented using an added yeast it instead relies on spontaneous fermentation, using the wild yeasts that hang around in the brewery. This leads to a much longer fermentation time than usual, around 18 months in the case of Mort Subite, rather than a matter of days or weeks for british ales. This initial fermentation doesn’t convert all of the sugars to alcohol and after the beer is aged various vintages are blended together and bottled for a second fermentation. The resulting beer is sweet and sour, with different varieties varying between those two extremes. The Mort Subite is a very approachable gueuze, much less scary than the super-sour Cantillon that I rather like. On the nose it has a strong cidery smell – real cider, not the Strongbows of this world, with sweet apple, mulchy apple skin and a hint of farmyard – along with a slab of rich malt. To taste it was, as expected, sweet and sour and very cidery – a medium scrumpy. This was chosen to go first as it’s a good palate cleanser – it has no bitterness and served cold some of the sweetness is cut out making it very refreshing.
The first pair of beers were chosen to accompany Dahi Puri – a puri (a crispy poppadomy case) filled with red chick peas, a variety of chutneys and some yoghurt. They reminded me, in a good way, of very high class nachos – crunchiness mixed with creamy yoghurt, beany chickpeas and a sweet, spicy chutney, with all the flavours coming out individually and working well together.
Beer number one was Freedom Pilsner. The brewery started off in Fulham, down the road from DR.iNK, and after expanding into a couple of brewpubs (including one opposite Belgo in Covent Garden that I used to frequent) they shut up shop in London and moved to Staffordshire. This beer was the only lager we were to try all night – while some of the others were lager-y this is the only true lager (lager being the german for ‘to store’), matured after a 10-14 day fermentation for 4 weeks before bottling. On the nose there was grain, grass and a (contradictory) dry sweetness. After Alex pointed it out, as is often the way, I picked up a pile of vegetable notes, with cabbage and cooked onions. To taste it was lightly carbonated and very dry with a lightly savoury hop. It picked up the grainy notes on the nose but kept the sweetness under control – light and refreshing. It worked well with the puri, with the food bringing out more sweetness from the beer and more bitterness, enhancing the flavours and complimenting each other.
Along with that we had Früh Kölsch. Kölsch is a style of beer from Cologne (aka Köln to the people who live there) with a PDO. It’s light and often taken to be a lager, but it uses an ale yeast so strictly speaking isn’t one. The Brauhaus Früh is in the middle of Cologne near the cathedral and produces a typical and well thought of kölsch. On the nose it had sweet grain and light sour fruit. To taste it had raw malt, sweet butter and a similar vegetable character to the Freedom Pilsner. This time there was already more sweetness in beer and the food mainly accentuated the hops, still going well and in a similar fashion to the pilsner.
The next dish was Paneer Samosas. Rather than using minced meat these instead were filled with crumbled paneer, a cheese made by souring boiled milk with lemon juice before straining and working the curds to remove moisture. They had a pleasantly lingering sesame flavour from seeds sprinkled on top of the samosas and were surprisingly meaty – if I hadn’t been told that it was paneer I would have assumed minced lamb or pork. This wasn’t a traditionally Gujarati dish, as they generally use paneer in desserts such as Ras Malai rather than savouries.
To go with the samosas the first beer was Celis White. It’s made by Pierre Celis, thought of as the saviour of the belgian wheat beer after his revival of the style with a little beer called Hoegaarden. Celis White came about after Stella took over the production of Hoegaarden, having taken part ownership of the Celis’s brewery after helping out during some money troubles, and then started tweaking the recipe. Celis decided to brew a beer to his original recipe, and thus was Celis White born. On a bit more googling it seems the story doesn’t end there, with Pierre setting up his brewery in the US (although he didn’t move there), Miller buying the brewery and brand, Miller closing the brewery and selling on the name and, finally, Brouwerij Van Steenberge (home of Gulden Draak and Piraat) now brewing the beer in Belgium. It even seems that there are two Celis Whites, one by Van Steenberge and one by Michigan Brewing, leading to the former being distributed in the US as Ertveld’s Wit, named for the town where it’s brewed. On the nose it is, very reminiscent of Hoegaarden, with citrus and coriander (as you’d expect from a beer seasoned with orange peel and coriander). The familiarity continues with the taste, with more coriander and lemon, a rich buttery wheat and a dry vegetal finish. Dryer than current production Hoegaarden, it worked well with the food, the fruity spiced paneer filling the dry gap in the centre of the beer. The style blatantly inspired Ferran Adrià’s Inedit, a beer designed to compliment food, and it works in a similar fashion.
The next companion beer for the samosas was Saison Dupont, the brewery being Dupont and the style Saison. Brewed in the west of Belgium it was traditionally produced for farm workers but these days is given a secondary bottle fermentation to produce a stronger beer. On the nose it was pure fruity icecream, like pink supermarket neapolitan, with a thick maltiness – my notes say ‘Like a strawberry malt milkshake”. The taste was big with sweet malt and bitter end – Dan from What Ales You almost ruined this one for me with his loud and true announcement of ‘Juicy fruit chewing gum”. This very much contrasted with the Celis White, but worked well – the sweetness of the beer blended with the sweetness underlying the filling and the savoury notes of the food mingled nicely.
We then moved onto the next dish – Ragdo Pattis. This was a patty of chick peas with a jaggery sweetened tomatoey sauce. My notes are annoyingly light, but I remember it to be tasty and pleasantly sweet, with the fudgey nature of jaggery (which Shrila handed around a bowl of) coming through.
The accompanying beer was Kernel Citra IPA. One of the beers I’d tried at Jason’s beer amnesty earlier this year it was one I’d been meaning to try again – after this tasting it’s on my definite to buy list. The Kernel IPAs keep pretty much the same recipe, varying in which hop they use. I’ve tried the award winning Simcoe IPA before but this one is a much more elegant beer. On the nose it had the strong smell of a hop loft, cut with tropical fruit – passion fruit maybe? To taste it was much softer than the smell, with light sweet citrus, seville oranges and a hit of mulchy hop leading to a bitter end. A solid IPA and one that I need in my cupboard. I didn’t think this went all that well with the food, as the softness of the beer disappeared under the strength of flavour leaving just the strong green hoppiness.
The other ‘beer’ was Williams Ginger. An alcoholic ginger beer rather than a regularly malty one, this was classed as a ‘spiced ale’ on Alex’s list. From the same brewer as Grozet (gooseberry and wheat beer), Kelpie (seaweed ale) and most famously Fraoch (heather ale) this continues that idea of twists on regular beers but with a more traditional recipe. On the nose it had chocolate covered ginger nut biscuits and crystallised ginger. To taste it had only a light gingeriness which dissipated quickly to sugar syrup with a burst of dry root ginger at the end. This worked better with the food, with the ginger adding to the spiciness and the sweetness.
The next course was Idli Sambal, a steamed dumpling served with red lentil dal and yoghurt. I wasn’t a fan of the idli, as it was a fairly bland and mainly used to provide some body to the dish, but the dal was excellent – smooth like a thick soup and rich. We asked how they’d got the consistency and the secret was revealed to be a pressure cooker – a bit of high pressure cooking of the pulses before they’re used helps them break down into a tasty sauce thickener.
The first match was Hopback Summer Lightning, which Alex credited with reinventing the British golden ale when it was introduced in 1995, picking up the gold medal in the bottle conditioned beer category in 1997’s Great British Beer Festival as well as a bunch of other awards. On the nose it was quite farmyardy, with mud, hay and fruit as well as an almost wheat beer-like sourness. To taste it was very vegetal, with boiled green vegetables, some mulchy fruit and hints of grain leading to hop bitterness. It worked quite nicely with the food, losing some of its pungency and bringing some vegetable flavours to the soft stodge of the dal.
The second beer was Copper Dragon Challenger IPA. This was my least favourite beer of the night – the other beers we’d tried felt like they’d been designed to work in a bottle and were comparable to a good cask beer, but this one just tasted to me like a generic bottled ale. It wasn’t bad by any means, just not as interesting as the others. On the nose it was solidly beery, with a slug of sweet maltiness balanced with bitter hops (ie. it smelled of beer). To taste it was richly sweet but non-descript without much of a lingering flavour. The food overpowered the beer somewhat, but the sweetness did add a bit to the flavour of the dal.
The last dish of the night was a vegetable curry, made from the curry paste that Shrila sells in her shop, served with rice. The paste is not a particularly Gujarati one but it was rather good, with a gentle spiciness wrapping up the veggies (some squash, iirc) that were cooked in it.
To go with the curry we started off with Thornbridge Kipling. Thornbridge have hit a bit of an ascendant recently, with their Jaipur being roundly hailed as a new generation of British IPA, winning the gold in the 2010 GBBF strong ales category, and their other beers gaining prizes and a strong following. The Kipling is a golden ale with a light and fresh nose of lemons, fruity hops and tropical fruit. To taste it is clean tasting with floral notes leading to a delicate hoppy bitterness provided by Nelson Sauvin hops. It did well with the curry, cutting through the spice and adding its own fruitiness to that of the curry paste.
The last food matching beer was Schneider Weisse Unser Aventinus, a weisse doppelbock (a german wheat beer brewed to be rather strong) coming in at 8.2% and named for historian Johannes Aventinus. On the nose it had bubble gum, bananas, lots of concentrated wheat and, after Alex pointed it out, sticking plasters – a strange hint of the medicinal. To taste it was sweet, dark and rich with equal measures of malt and wheat, matched with some liquorice. The food brought out the bananas I got on the nose and, similar to the Kipling, added fruitiness, although this time with more heavy sweetness.
The last beer of the night was a digestif: Harviestoun Ola Dubh 12 year old, their Old Engine Oil matured in whisky barrels from Highland Park. I’ve written about the 16 year old before (the age referring to how long whisky had been the barrel rather than how old the beer is) and still prefer the 12 when it comes to price/taste ratio. It’s a thick dark beer, with wood and sour fruit on the nose. The darkness continues into the taste with dark chocolate, coffee and wine fruit up front, and a hint of marzipan when you breathe in after finishing your glass. A good evening ender, happily swamping the tastebuds.
A great evening with a friendly group, some great food and a wide range of beer. There are more supperclub evenings coming up, the dates are listed on the website, and tickets go for £40 a head (which is at the upper end of what I’d expect). The plan does seem to be to vary the menu and beers each time, altering things based on feedback from each session and what new beers and ideas the come up with, and a repeat visit is tempting.
Many thanks to Shrila and family, Alex and Su-Lin for inviting me along – they subbed me in for free this time. It was also great to meet Dan and Anna from What Ales You and Helen from Bites of London, who also has a write-up on her site.
Mort Subite Gueuze
Pilsner lager, 5%.
Belgian witte, 5%.
Kernel Citra IPA
India Pale Ale, 6.2%.
Wiliams Brothers Ginger
Alcoholic Ginger Beer, 3.8%.
Hopback Summer Lightning
Blonde ale, 5%.
Copper Dragon Challenger IPA
India Pale Ale, 4.8%.
Golden ale, 5.2%.
Schneider Weisse Aventinus
Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 12
Whisky cask aged porter, 8%.