Yes, yes, this is a wine column but, as Jonathan Ray explains, sometimes only a beer will do – and some are so stylish that they are best imbibed from a flute anyway
For Jonathan Ray, a clean, crisp beer can be the only thing that will quench his thirst — and discovers there is much among today’s brews for wine lovers such as himself to like.
HRH The Prince of Wales’s private orchard offers sanctuary to many heirloom fruit trees – which can now be enjoyed as a heritage brandy, says Kevin Pilley.
Take a look at our pick of the best shoot day wines.
THE JOY OF BEER
Sometimes, only a beer will do. A G&T, a dry martini, a frothsome fizz, a Kiwi Savvy Blanc, a bone-dry Manzanilla or even a whisky and soda are all very well (and they usually do me very well, thank you) but, just occasionally, when a thirst first threatens, it simply has to be a cleansing lager.
An ice cold Asahi Super Dry invariably hits the spot these days and I’ve developed quite a taste for it. It’s crisp, clean and refreshing and, unlike most piss ’n’ wind lagers, actually tastes of something and boasts a bit of bite. The excellent Brooklyn Lager, too, has become quite a staple.
But where the heck does one go after that? Being the old soak that I am, I usually head back to the safe, familiar waters of fine vino. Recently, however – not least because it’s the only way I get to see my newly-turned 18-year-old son, who cannot be prised from the pub – I’ve been delving deeper into beer and what a novel treat it has been. Indeed, I’ve discovered there is much among today’s brews for wine lovers such as me to enjoy.
The best thing about beer – most beers, at any rate – is that it stops me drinking too much. Yes, yes, of course I knock the stuff back as readily as the next lush. What I mean is that beer is generally so much weaker than wine that I find I’m not consuming as many of those dread units of alcohol as I would usually.
There are some fearsomely strong ales, of course, and I’d certainly not turn my nose up at any of them. The Duvel Tripel Hop Extra (see Six of the Best) is a hearty 9.5%vol, roughly equivalent to a decent German Riesling. Epic Brewing’s Big Bad Baptista, a full-on stout from Utah, USA, is a creditable 11.7%vol – akin to the Provençal rosé I had last night – and, at the top end of the scale, I hear tell of Brewmeister’s Armageddon beer, which is an alarming and seemingly improbable 65%vol. Cripes! In general, however, most beers that cross my path range from 4%vol to 7%vol, which is appreciably lower than wine. Yes, we drink beer in larger quantities than we do wine, but if I have more than a few pints I find that I’m constantly busting for a pee and the umpteenth trip to the loo is usually the signal for me to give up and go home. With wine, on the other hand, once I get going, I get going and I rarely locate the brakes until the bottle – or, shudder, the bottles – are fully drained.
Beer is also nothing if not healthy, with no fat, no cholesterol and precious few carbs or calories. It’s about as natural and as healthy a drink as you will find, made from nowt but water, barley, hops and yeast and crammed with all sorts of good things such as soluble fibre, antioxidants, potassium and Vitamin B.
And despite what I say above about drinking beer by the pint in pubs, elsewhere fine restaurants and swanky bars are embracing more delicate glassware. Michelin-starred establishments such as Quilon in London’s Victoria and Le Gavroche in Mayfair both boast lengthy beer lists, having recognised not only how brilliantly beer matches food but also that punters are unlikely to want to drink said ales by the pint. They use wine or even cocktail glasses.
Only a few nights ago I treated Mrs Ray to a beer ’n’ food soirée. We started with the excellent Deus from Belgium. As befits a beer that undergoes a secondary fermentation in bottle, it comes in a champagne-style bottle and I served it in champagne flutes. At 11.5%vol, it set the seal on a fine evening and Mrs R was more than impressed.
Other highlights included: Ardbeg whisky’s limited-edition ‘The Shortie’, served in small tumblers alongside whisky-cured smoked salmon; the aforementioned and utterly gorgeous, fresh, vibrant and zingy Duvel Tripel Hop Citra (which my chum Rupert Ponsonby likens to Sauvignon Blanc on steroids) in a white wine glass with some mussels; Innis & Gunn Rum Cask in a port glass with some aged mimolette cheese; and, finally, the ridiculously moreish Liefmans’ Frambozen (raspberry) beer in martini glasses with tiny chocolate brownies.
I didn’t miss wine once. It was all delicacy and tastiness, enhanced by a subsequent trip to the pub for pints of Harvey’s Sussex Best Bitter, a game of pool with my son – and regular trips to the loo.
6 OF THE BEST BEERS
Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger (£1.20 per 50cl, 5.4%vol; Ocado)
I was weaned on this strong, proud, Kentish beauty and still lap it up.
Guinness Original Extra Stout (£1.60 per 50cl, 4.2%vol; Waitrose)
Still the mighty king of all beers and nothing less than a meal in itself.
Timothy Taylor’s Landlord (£1.70 per 50cl, 4.3%vol; Tesco)
Multiple winner of CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain; the classic pale ale.
Duvel Tripel Hop Citra (£2.50 per 33cl, 9.5%vol; Morrisons)
A gorgeous Belgian IPA crammed with fresh, zesty lemon ’n’ lime flavours.
Innis & Gunn caribbean rum Cask (£1.90 per 33cl, 6.8%vol; Waitrose)
Rich ’n’ spicy with hints of toffee and candied fruit; an all-time favourite.
Liefmans Kriek Brut (£3.07 per 33cl, 6%vol; Beersniffers)
A stunning sour brown beer aged with cherries that fair dances on your tastebuds.