Beer is the new sex…

Sex sells – so we’re told. Put the word ‘sex’ on the front of a book or magazine and it’ll sell more copies. Don’t even get me started on the objectification and exploitation of women and women’s sexuality to sell, sell, sell – this is my beer blog after all.

The reason I mention that sex sells is because marketers are well known for using it to sell products completely unrelated to sex, but now it seems they’ve turned to beer instead.

Does this mean beer is now desirable and influential within the mainstream? Or is it just a cynical ploy to get mostly female shoppers to buy apparently beer-related goods because the ‘menfolk will like them’ – thus adhering to the tired old stereotype that beer is a man’s drink (my lord!).

You may be thinking, ‘What about bierwurst?’ – that’s been in the supermarkets for ages! But it hasn’t actually got any beer in it. Rather, it’s a great example of beer and food matching as it’s said to taste best with a glass of beer.

For me, the whole thing began with a relatively innocuous packet of Morrison’s sausages. Part of their ‘M’ range these ‘thick pork and dark ale sausages’ took my fancy because of the dark ale part of the name. I bought them for Beer Husband (stereotype behaviour!) because I knew I’d be able to blag one without the risk I might scoff the lot in one sitting. They turned out to be pretty, rich and tasty – so they went on the shopping list again but I thought no more of it.

Then last week I was on the way back from visiting my best pal in Wales. I always call in at the Tesco next to Talbot Green - close to Junction 34 of the M4 – because it has a pretty impressive selection of beer. Plus it’s currently my only reliable source of Brains Dark (with the exception of buying online).

As I browsed the aisles for something with which to assemble a lunchtime roll I spotted this:

Cashing in on beer's reputation?

Cashing in on beer’s reputation?

Not long after my eyes alighted on this:

Think Ronseal...

Think Ronseal…

I was intrigued and bought a packet of each. Alas the results did not live up to intrigue.

The Kentish Ale Roast Ham purports to be, “Hand trimmed, cured and marinated in ale, then roasted in spiced sugar for a tender texture and delicious flavour.” Beer is clearly listed among the ingredients but it doesn’t specify what sort of beer.

This ham does taste of beer, but the flavour quickly disintegrates into a mish-mash of salty sweetness that led me to ‘accidentally’ drop most of it on the floor and request the dog take care of it. I imagine the decision to literally sugarcoat this ham might have been for fear that a hoppy Kentish ale could turn the meat quite bitter – but it backfired.

Next up the Belgian Beer Ham. This was a much better effort and had a much more genuine feel about it. Not so much beer is the new sex, more beer is cool let’s eat it as well as drinking it.

I would like to know exactly which Belgian beer was used to marinate this ham – which according to the packaging is actually produced in Belgium. If I had to take a punt I’d guess at some variety of brown ale. It tasted, well, satisfyingly hammy! It possessed a natural porky sweetness, (unlike the sugar coated horror of its Kent counterpart), a moist and juicy texture and was a delightful bacon substitute with my breakfast fried egg and a slither of cheese (Maasdam since you ask) I had with it in a vaguely Dutch style. The beer flavours come through in much the same way as tangy hops in a pint.

A quick search on some supermarket websites turned up the usual suspects in terms of steak and ale pies – which I appreciate have been around for donkey’s years – Tesco also offers ‘Lunch Club World Flavours Ale Ham’ and ‘Melton Red Ale’ sausages – another descriptor naming the type of beer used as per the Morrison’s sausages.

There’s also a collaboration between an award-winning butcher and the splendid Dorset-based Sixpenny Brewery to make IPA sausages (which I’ve yet to sample). These have a ring of authenticity and integrity about them though which the supermarket products lack – hence my assertion that beer is the new sex.

I’ll be keeping my eyes open for further evidence to make my case – and am also interested to hear your examples to assist!

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Beer and pubs: holiday make or break…

It’s no exaggeration to say the right pub(s) can make or break a holiday – and I’m talking UK hols here. After a recent long weekend away in Sheringham, Norfolk here are my thoughts on what pubs can do to measure up to the holiday spirit.

I want local beer – and a variety of it. Only stocking best-sellers from big regional brewers that can also be found in every other pub throughout Britain doesn’t cut it. See my previous post about holidaying in Cornwall. Of course the beer-tie often puts pay to this as it shackles publicans in more ways than one.

I want to feel like it’s my local – but I appreciate there’s a balancing act between me and your regulars. I’d like to opportunity to get some grub no matter what time of day it is – and not just a packet of crisps. I’ll stick around if there’s something to keep Beer Husband and I amused – a pool table or a stack of board games offers a great way to pass a relaxing few hours.                                                                                                                             

With this in mind our pub of the weekend had to be The Village Inn, West Runton.


Holidays call for great session beers, like Grain Brewery Oak.

Holidays call for great session beers, like Grain Brewery Oak.

Although it doesn’t serve food all day (it serves at lunchtime and then again in the evening) the beer was marvellous, the service friendly and there were board games. We arrived at around half three and played Chess and Scrabble over pints of Grain Brewery’s Oak (3.8%), a flavour-packed hoppy session ale, and Beeston’s On the Huh (5%) a strong, dark bitter with a noticeable chocolatey flavour and munched on a packet of pork scratchings until evening food service started at 6pm. The pub is fab inside and out – owing to an impressive mock-Tudor building and a large garden with more than 70 tables. The food was top notch too.


The Lobster Inn, Sheringham... also serves crab!

The Lobster Inn, Sheringham… also serves crab!

Runners-up were The Lobster Inn, Sheringham – which had a decent selection of ales (but not much to mark it out from other local pubs), friendly staff, good food and a classic seaside pub interior with plenty of fishing memorabilia and pictures of the Sheringham Lifeboat – and The George Hotel, Cley which offered four cask ales including quite well-kept (it was somewhat too cool) Woodforde’s Wherry (3.8%) a golden ale, citrussy and refreshing with a dry finish great for a hot day and Yetman’s Beer (3.8%) a coppery, chestnut brown brew with pleasant marmaladey flavour. I found the atmosphere in The George a little lacking but spotting its bird-related decor and a huge tome called The Bird Bible in bird sightings may be recorded (Cley is a renowned birdwatching location) had me making plans to give it a second chance.

There were two ‘also rans’ of the weekend. Although we stayed at The Two Lifeboats, Sheringham, we were uninspired by its menu and even though there were two beers from Wolf Brewery on the bar (along with Wherry and Adnams Ghost Ship which we spotted in many if not most of the other local pubs) there was something missing which meant it was our last night before we had a drink here. It might be down to the fact that being a sea front pub it was inevitably a tourist trap – which makes me run a mile – or perhaps my great beery expectations are just too high. In its defence – it is in a FANTASTIC location, has friendly staff (especially the marvellous chap who carried my gigantic, heavy suitcase up and down the stairs for me when I arrived/departed) and there was plenty to choose from on the menu – it just wasn’t ‘our place’ on this trip.

The other also ran was The Windham Arms. Here I found a variety of interesting, well-kept cask beers (all local) – I opted for Humpty Dumpty’s tasty Broadland Sunrise (4.2%) while Beer Husband went for Moongazer’s Ruby Ale (4.5%) – and we also had a fantastic dinner, but first impressions last. With both of us at the bar we asked for tasters but one of us didn’t like our first choice so asked for a taste of something else. The surly barman gave me a look and said, “I normally only give two tasters,” before grudgingly handing over the third and saying, “but I’m feeling pretty generous.” 

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by other pubs not minding if we taste a few beers in order to select the right one, but even so we didn’t return to this pub – for fear of being treated like the world’s biggest blaggers for asking for an eggcup’s worth of beer before committing to spending £3.55 on a pint. Had the bartender been more welcoming we’d have bought more than a few and I’d probably be writing it up as pub of the weekend…

Pub of the holiday weekend: The Village Inn, West Runton.

Pub of the holiday weekend: The Village Inn, West Runton.

Nevertheless… we had a fantastic trip to north Norfolk and I’m looking forward to going back – especially to The Village Inn at West Runton.

Many pubs with accommodation are listed on the Stay in a Pub website.

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BBC Radio Devon beers

Every couple of months I head for Plymouth to appear on the Bill Buckley show as part of his Foodie Friday. We usually try to have a theme, I take in a few beers to fit in with said theme and we chat and taste the beers. 

I’m fresh back from my latest guest slot which you can listen to here (for around a week after the date of this post. I’m on during the last hour of the show) in which we took a little look at how sophisticated beer can be.

I chose beers in large 750ml bottles – wine size bottles if you like – aiming for brews which would challenge received ideas of ‘what beer is like’. I also opted for beers in special packaging (see pictures).

Here’s what we tasted:

We started with Wild Beer Co and Fyne Ales Cool as a Cucumber (2.9%) – a low ABV delight perfect for hot summer afternoons. It has the characteristic dryness of many of their beers – brought about by the use of saison and brettanomyces yeasts. The flavour is delicate but with hints of fruitiness. The cucumber flavour is very subtle, emerging as you swallow the beer – as if a slice of cucumber had slipped across your toungue – giving way to a pleasant malty aftertaste. I am looking forward to trying this beer as a mixer to a glass of gin served with cucumber instead of lemon!

Stay cool as a Cucumber with this summery beer from Wild Beer Co & Fyne Ales.

Stay cool as a cucumber with this summery beer from Wild Beer Co & Fyne Ales.

Next up we headed south east to Italy (please do not even mention upcoming footballyness) to sample one of the delightful beers from Mastri Birrai Umbri. Because we were already having two saison-style beers I opted for their No. 42 Dark Malt beer (6%) which is made with lentils – grown in the same part of Italy as the beer is brewed. This beer is deliciously rich and dark and not dissimilar to a Belgian dubbel, with an aroma of dried fruit and a hint of chocolate which carries through to the taste. I am looking forward to pairing this with something like venison – which I have learned is sometimes served with a chocolate sauce! Mastri Birrai Umbri is imported into the UK by Alivini – who will soon have an online shop for retail customers to buy the beer from.

Mastri Birrai Umbri beers: check out the posh, re-sealable bottle!

Mastri Birrai Umbri beers: check out the posh, re-sealable bottle!

Swing top Mastri Birrai Umbri

We finished off with another Wild Beer Co brew: their Ninkasi (9%), named for the Sumerian goddess of booze. It features New Zealand hops, apples and wild yeast – which all come together perfectly to make you want to eat strong Cheddar cheese as per the food matching suggestion on the bottle.It’s crisply dry, with a noticeable appley tang and a reined-in sourness likely to appeal to cider-lovers as well as fans of funky beers.

Ninkasi Wild Beer

Wild Beer Co Ninkasi

Ninkasi in glass

As per the episode of my Beertalkers podcast which looked at the question, “Is beer posh?” with these beers I was trying to show there is more to beer than:

  • A pint of the usual,
  • Generic, uni-flavoured brown or yellow stuff,
  • I like beer but I prefer wine with food.

If you are a beer-savvy reader or – a beer geek – you’ll know all this but I hope any beer newbies that have stopped by (perhaps after hearing me on Radio Devon) might find this food (or beer) for thought.

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