Belgium

Fundamentals #54 — Lambiek Fabriek Oude Geuze Brett-Elle

Lazy, late summer Sundays are perfect for enjoying a sour beer or two. There’s something about leaves turning a dark, heavy shade of green and the scent of burning charcoal drifting from garden to garden that tells you it’s time to slow down for a while. Now is the perfect time to take stock of your year so far, before the colder months begin to set in.

Which sour to reach for, though? Do you choose a tart, bittersweet Flanders red or oud bruin? Perhaps you desire a few cans of a modern gose, laden with fruit and refreshing salinity. You might even choose a cider or natural wine that errs on the funkier side of things. For me though, you can’t beat the elegance of an oude geuze.

There is something magical about geuze (or gueuze if written in French instead of Flemish). The way in which it’s made contributes to the power of its spell. It is fermented spontaneously – meaning that fermentation is achieved by inoculating wort with airborne yeast and bacteria – no yeast is pitched (the creation of a sourdough yeast culture would be a good comparison).

The beer is then fermented and matured in oak casks, typically former wine barrels, for up to (and sometimes more than) three years. This unblended beer is called lambic. It becomes geuze when old lambic is blended in bottle with young lambic. The residual sugars in the younger beer will trigger refermentation in bottle creating a lively, champagne-like beer. If the old lambic used is at least three years old, then it is allowed to be called oude geuze. To be called geuze, the beer must also be produced in the Pajottenland, a small area to the southwest of Brussels, along the Zenne Valley. It’s home to many legendary producers, including Boon and 3 Fonteinen. There are newcomers too, however, such as Lambiek Fabriek, which began its own journey into spontaneous fermentation in 2016.

Due to Lambiek Fabriek being far younger than most producers of lambic and geuze (and the relative popularity of rare geuze among hardened beer collectors), coming across its Brett-Elle blend has so far been relatively challenging. You can be thankful, then, that Hop Burns & Black have managed to secure some for you.

Where Brett-Elle may lack the simple elegance of an oude geuze from say, Boon or Tilquin, it makes up for this through sheer punch of flavour. It provides an immediate hit of tart, freshly squeezed lemon juice on the palate. There’s a touch of farmyard to this beer too, as if you’ve been rumbled scrumping lemons from a local farmer, and you’re hiding in a barn, behind a drove of goats. Then, quite suddenly, another snap of pithy lemon and a dry, saline finish snaps you back into the garden. Be careful not to burn those hamburgers as you enjoy this beer.

Matthew Curtis is a writer, photographer and editor of Pellicle Magazine. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis and @pelliclemag. Be first to read Matt’s columns when you sign up to our All Killer No Filler beer subscription box - along with Claire Bullen’s recipe and pairings, plus in-depth tasting notes, they’re included in every box…

The Beer Lover’s Table: Oven-Cooked Chicken & Orzo and Saison Dupont

Like the rest of the internet, I lost my damn mind when Nigella Lawson posted a photo of perfectly golden roast chicken nestled in soupy, carrot-flecked orzo on Instagram at the end of February.

To be clear, there is nothing radical about chicken cooked with orzo – the Greeks have been doing it for aeons. While the image was initially ended as a casual, off-the-cuff home-cooking shot, Lawson received so many requests for the recipe that she posted it just a few days later (combined, the two posts have netted upwards of 72,000 likes).

Viral recipes are a curious phenomenon (and one that Alison Roman appears to have mastered, between those cookies and that chickpea stew) - particularly, particularly because the dishes that capture popular attention are often paradoxically simple and nostalgia-infused. I can’t quite explain why, amongst the hundreds of food images I scroll past each day, Nigella’s chicken lodged in my brain, but lodge it did. There is something to its buoyantly bronzed breast, and the two-in-one ur-comfort of oven-baked pasta and roast chicken.

I have made several tweaks to Nigella’s recipe (swapping leeks for onion, adding feta and pine nuts, and using stock in place of water), but it’s not an exaggeration to say that hers is the best chicken dish I’ve had all year. It is genius, the way that the pasta soaks up the bird’s broth and oils, its very essence. Make it for dinner parties. Make it for special occasions. Make it when you feel sad. Make it when you’re happy. Just make it.

In the way that this dish is an instant soul- and crowd-pleasing classic, so is Saison Dupont. This is an unimpeachable beer: it is so perfectly poised, with its light sweetness, finishing bitterness, fluffy head and restrained esters. Saisons are a classically food- friendly style, but I find they do particularly well with chicken dishes. Here, the two are seamless, and both ludicrously joyful.

“This is a simple recipe that brings profound pleasure,” Lawson says. Right she is, and that’s even truer with this beer alongside.

Oven-Cooked Chicken and Orzo
Serves 6
Adapted from
Nigella Lawson

1 small chicken (approximately 1.4kg/3lbs)
2-3 tablespoons fine sea salt, divided, plus additional
2 large carrots
1 large onion
1 head garlic
4 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon crushed chillis
2 lemons
600ml (2 ½ cups) chicken stock (plus additional, if needed)
250g (9oz) orzo
100g (3 ½oz) toasted pine nuts
200g (7oz) feta
Small handful parsley, torn

1. Roughly 1 hour before you plan to cook, remove the chicken from the fridge. Season inside and out with 1.5-2 tablespoons of sea salt (depending on your salt tolerance). Set aside and leave on the counter to warm slightly. (Note: you can also season the chicken several hours in advance, or even the night before, for additional flavour and tenderness. The further in advance you season it, the less salt you should use.)

2. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F) – you’ll need a large Dutch oven for this dish, preferably cast-iron or enamel. Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables. Roughly chop the carrots and onion. Separate the garlic cloves and peel, but leave whole. Roughly chop the oregano.

3. Place the Dutch oven on the hob (stove) over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Once hot but not smoking, add the carrots, onion, and garlic, and season with the additional tablespoon of salt (you can halve this if you’re watching your salt intake or prefer less salted food), plus lots of freshly ground black pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for 3–5 minutes, or until slightly softened and the onions and garlic have lost their raw aroma. Add the oregano and crushed chillis, and cook for an additional minute, or until fragrant. Remove from the heat and transfer the vegetables to a plate.

4. Using a microplane, grate the two lemons, setting the zest aside. Halve and squeeze the juice into a separate bowl. Then, tuck the squeezed lemon halves into the chicken’s cavity, which will further perfume it as it cooks.

4. Return the pot to the hob and add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Turn the heat to high; once very hot, add the chicken, breast-side down. Sear for 2–3 minutes, or until its breast skin turns crisp and golden-brown. Then, flip the chicken so it’s breast-side up.

5. Return the vegetables to the pot, being careful to place them around the chicken rather than on top of it. Pour in the chicken stock; it should come most of the way up the bird, but should not cover its breast (you may need additional broth, depending on the size and shape of your pot). Add the reserved lemon zest and lemon juice. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper, and bring to the boil. Once boiling, cover with the lid and transfer to your preheated oven.

6. Cook the chicken for approximately 1 hour–1 hour 15 minutes. Carefully remove the pot from the oven and take off the lid. Pour the orzo around the chicken, using a spoon to ensure the pasta is fully submerged; add a bit of additional broth if needed. Taste the broth and add a pinch of additional salt, if needed. Cover the pot and return to the oven for 30 minutes.

7. After 30 minutes, remove from the oven and take off the lid: the orzo should be fully cooked, and most of the broth absorbed. Using a spoon, gently stir the orzo without dislodging the chicken. Add the pine nuts to the orzo and stir through before topping with crumbled feta. Return the pot, this time without a lid, to the oven for 5 additional minutes, until the feta has softened and begun to melt. Remove from the oven.

8. Bring the chicken to the table in the pot, so everyone can see how beautiful it is, before heading back to the kitchen. To serve, gently transfer the chicken to a cutting board with a large spatula (its meat will be falling off the bone). Using two forks (or your hands, if immune to heat), roughly shred the chicken and return to the pot; discard the skin, bones and any gristle, as well as the lemon halves inside the chicken. Mix through, and garnish with the parsley before serving.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table, is out now, available through our online shop or through good booksellers and online retailers. Saison Dupont is a year-round staple at Hop Burns & Black - you definitely want to stock up on this regularly,

#HBBAdvent Beer 12: Brasserie de la Senne Taras Boulba (Belgium)

Brasserie de la Senne says: Light blonde with 4.5% alc., generously hopped with the finest aromatic hops, giving it a very refreshing character and a scent reminiscent of citrus.

We say: Beer nerds assemble! This is the discerning beer nerd's beer of choice. Essentially a Belgian table beer (yes, even at 4.5%), this is ridiculously refreshing with a decent citrus bite and just a hint of that Bruxellensis funk.

We love Brasserie de la Senne for its fresh take on Belgian beer styles - as our beer writer Matthew Curtis says, "The combination of drinkability and modern flavours, while still remaining not just resolutely Belgian but resolutely Brussels really resonates with me." Bosh! - Jen

The Beer Lover's Kitchen: Pumpkin Gnudi with Porcini Broth and 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze

Gnudi are a joy—especially these gnudi, which involve a few cheffy flourishes but remain straightforward to prepare.

If you’re not already acquainted, think of gnudi as standalone ravioli filling (their name—which means "nude"—is a hint that they don't come robed in sheets of pasta dough). You might also consider them cousins of gnocchi, only more pillowy and less troublesome to make. If you want to impress someone with homemade pasta—especially without a pasta roller or other fiddly tools—this is the way to do it.

Gnudi are classically made with ricotta, bound with eggs and flour, and boiled for a few minutes until they gently bob to the water’s surface. To make mine autumnal, I added pumpkin purée and nutmeg to the mix. After cooking in water, they’re toasted in a frying pan with butter and sage leaves. To finish, caramelised onions impart sweetness, porcini broth adds umami depth and Parmigiano Reggiano does both.

Beyond being one of my favourite beers for, well, almost all occasions, 3 Fonteinen's Oude Geuze is also an excellent pairing partner for this dish. Sure, you could well serve pumpkin gnudi alongside a deeper, darker beer—but this masterful geuze, with its baked apple-like sweetness, tart finish, and rustic yeast character, is a lovely fit. And with its fizz, it adds something of a celebratory air, too. All you need now? A crackling fireplace to go with.

Pumpkin Gnudi with Fried Sage, Caramelised Onions and Porcini Broth
Serves 4

For the gnudi:
1 cup (approx. 235g) canned pumpkin puree (I used Libby's)
1 cup (approx. 215g) ricotta
1 cup (approx. 150g) grated Parmigiano Reggiano
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp coarse sea salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3/4 cup (approx. 110g) flour (preferably 00-grade)
1/4 cup (approx. 40g) semolina

For the onions:
30g unsalted butter
1 tbs olive oil
2 medium onions

For the broth:
25g dried porcini mushrooms
450ml boiling water
Scant 1/2 tsp sea salt

To serve:
100g unsalted butter
20-30 sage leaves
Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano

First, make the gnudi. In a food processor, combine the first seven ingredients and blend on low speed until well incorporated. Scrape into a large bowl and add both the 00-grade flour and the semolina. Stir gently until just combined.

Prepare a baking tray: line with a sheet of parchment paper and sprinkle over a generous amount of semolina (this will prevent the gnudi from sticking). Next, fill a small bowl with excess semolina (you'll be using this to coat your gnudi, which will also help them hold together).

Use a spoon to scoop out a small amount of dough; roll gently between your palms until it's about 1-inch wide, or the size of a large marble. Place gently in the bowl of semolina and sprinkle semolina over the top so it's full coated. Place on your prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the dough until all of your gnudi have been formed (pausing to wash and dry your hands from time to time if the dough begins to stick to your palms). Cover loosely with cling film and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours, which will help the gnudi set.

Roughly half an hour before you're ready to cook your gnudi, slice the two onions finely. In a medium frying pan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add the onions and turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook, stirring semi-regularly, for approximately 20-25 minutes, or until the onions are soft and deeply caramelised. Remove from the pan and set aside.

As your onions cook, prep your porcini broth. Add the dried porcini mushrooms to a medium bowl and pour over the boiling water. Stir in the salt and set aside for 20-30 minutes. Strain out the mushrooms. You can add these to the final dish if you wish, though I prefer to save them for another occasion.

Remove your gnudi from the fridge. Bring a medium saucepan of well salted water to a boil. Turn down to medium-low heat (you want the water at a gentle simmer). With a slotted spoon, add approximately 12 gnudi, ensuring that the pan is not crowded. Cook for 4-5 minutes, or until the gnudi gently rise to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate and cover to keep warm. Continue to cook the gnudi in batches.

To finish, melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the boiled gnudi with a slotted spoon and the sage leaves (you may need to do this in two batches, dividing the butter and sage in two as well). Cook for approximately four minutes, turning the gnudi halfway through, or until they are lightly golden, the sage is fried and crispy, and the butter has browned. Remove from heat.

To serve, divide the gnudi between four plates, pouring over the browned butter and sage evenly. Scatter the caramelised onions across, and pour over the broth (enough for the gnudi to sit in, but not so much that they're floating). Top with a generous sprinkle of shaved Parmigiano Reggiano.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen, and treat yourself to a bottle of 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze. You're worth it.

Fundamentals #14 - Boon Oude Geuze (2014/2015)

You can work out how old your bottle of Boon Oude Geuze is thanks to the label affixed around its neck – it’s usually released three years after this date, which denotes the beer’s brewing season.

Around this time each year, when the temperature drops low enough, the lambic brewing season begins in Belgium’s Zenne Valley region, at the southwestern tip of Brussels. From then it will continue until temperatures once again rise above unacceptable levels for lambic brewing the following spring.

Brussels and the Zenne Valley are famous in the brewing world for the microflora the environment is home to. It harbours myriad strains of wild yeast perfect for spontaneous fermentation such as Brettanomyces Bruxellensis. The wort that lambic producers create is allowed to cool overnight in a long, shallow metal vessel known as a “koelschip”,
or “coolship” in English. As the wort cools, it’s inoculated by wild yeast before being transferred to oak barrels for fermentation.

Lambic attains its sourness not from the process of spontaneous fermentation, however. Brettanomyces gives lambic brewers the long and slow fermentation they desire, but the sourness will occur post-fermentation, taking place over a period of up to three years within its oak barrel. Moist, wort-filled barrels make an ideal home for bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Pediococcus, which often makes certain barrels or large oak vats known as foeders particularly prized by brewers. The heat of the summer months gives rise to all manner of undesirable bacteria however, which is why the lambic brewing season only extends from autumn to spring.

Lambic is becomingly increasingly sought after, especially brands such as Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen. This is with good reason too, as their products are superb. However I still delight in the fact that I can always pick up a bottle of Boon Oude Geuze with very little effort. The fact that it’s less hyped and produced in relatively larger quantities means that I don’t have to worry about this changing any time soon, either.

This year’s vintage reminded me of why I appreciate Boon’s lambic and geuze so much. It’s bright and complex – but not to the point of being hard to understand. Flavours of lemon juice and green apple are ever present from the point it pops in your mouth to the moment it zips down your throat.

By all means chase after the rarest and most sought after lambics you can possibly find. I’ll be here in the meantime, sipping at a Boon and not worrying too much about what should and shouldn’t be fussed over.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up a bottle of Boon Oude Geuze in store or online.

Fundamentals #6 – Brasserie de la Senne Bruxellensis

Fundamentals 6 Bruxellensis 1.jpg

It’s very difficult for me to hide my enthusiasm for the beers of Brussels’ Brasserie de la Senne, so I’m not going to. De la Senne crafts some of my favourite beers being brewed anywhere in the world. The combination of drinkability and modern flavours, while still remaining not just resolutely Belgian but resolutely Brussels really resonates with me. It’s no wonder that the Belgian capital is also one of my favourite cities in the world.

Brasserie de la Senne takes its name from the Senne (sometimes spelled Zenne) river that flows along the border between Brussels and Flanders and into the city itself. Along with the eye-catching, 1930’s cinema inspired branding that depicts the city itself, this really adds to the brewery’s sense of place, which de la Senne in turn channels through the beers it produces.

Translated from the original Latin, the term Brettanomyces simply means “British yeast". There are many strains of Brettanomyces, or Brett, and each of them imbues a beer with its individual characteristics when it ferments sugar into alcohol. The one similar characteristic between all strains of Brett is that it will devour every drop of fermentable sugar within a beer. As a result beers that it’s present in tend to have an incredibly dry finish, making them very drinkable regardless of the alcohol content.

Brettanomyces Bruxellensis (or Brett Brux for short) is the strain of Brett that occurs naturally in the environment around Brussels and the Zenne valley. It’s not part of the natural atmospheric makeup of yeast and bacteria that causes spontaneous fermentation in lambic and gueuze, however. Instead it makes its home on the skins of fruit and within the grain of oak barrels and foudres. It’s in the latter that is slowly works its magic.

Brett Brux produces flavours and aromas that carry descriptors such as “barnyard” and “horse blanket” as well as a character that could be described as sour, leathery or earthy. It’s an essential ingredient in the production of lambic, gueuze, Flanders red, Oud Bruin and Trappist ales such as Orval.

Orval is probably the best starting point when trying to pin down the flavour of de la Senne Bruxellensis. Is has similar dry, woody, earthy characteristics to what made Orval so popular in the first place. In contrast to that, this beer has a bright, spritzy minerality that is so unmistakably de la Senne.

Bruxellensis is aged in the bottle for four months before release, so the Brett characteristics are already strongly prevalent when the beer is fresh. However, a little careful aging will bring those Bretty flavours to the fore. I prefer it fresh, but as with Orval it’s worth picking up a few to experiment and see how old you prefer yours.

The fundamentals of beer are anything that makes up the sum of a beer’s parts. Water, barley, wheat, oats, sugars, yeast, bacteria and even adjuncts such as fruit or maize are all fundamental parts of what make up our favourite beers. You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog Total AlesGood Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up a bottle of Brasserie de la Senne Bruxellensis in store or online now.

No More Heroes XXII – Brouwerij Alvinne Wild West

At some point over the last few years the use of the word “sour” in beer circles has shifted from being an adjective to a noun. From gose to gueuze, sours are more popular than ever, with more and more breweries trying their hand at producing them deliberately than ever before. We’re even seeing new breweries opening that are dedicated to producing nothing but sour and bretted beers, such as Crooked Stave in the US.

But to use the word “sour” as a catch-all term for any beer that’s a little bit funky feels a little bit lazy, to me at least. Many of the world’s best sour beers such as lambic, gueuze, gose and Berliner weisse have a name that not only begins to describe the beer but also conveys a sense of place. I also feel that it’s lazy to borrow these terms that indicate a beer's provenance. If a brewer is making a spontaneously fermented, oak aged beer in California do they have the right to call his or her beer a lambic? Legally yes, but does that mean they should? I don’t believe so. The brewing industry needs to find a better way of describing the myriad genres of sour beer now in existence.

The good thing about the prevalence of sour beers however, is the increased availability of really tasty ones. Brouwerij Alvinne, out of Moen, Belgium produce some absolute corkers. In fact I was surprised when Hop Burns & Black took a generous delivery that they didn’t sell out immediately, because beer this good deserves the hype.

Wild West is as close to a core beer as Alvinne produces. It’s a subtle, nuanced tartness as opposed to a sharp and intense sour note. The low carbonation seems to allow the oak and vanilla notes imbued by the barrel to shine through, but there’s still enough carbonation to make it prickle on your tongue. When it comes to sours I prefer them straight up, as opposed to fruited variants, but the plum version of Wild West also deserves a shout out because it’s equally as superb as the “normal” version. If you like Belgian sours, then this beer will be in tune with your chakras.

Music Pairing - Run DMC, It’s Tricky
It’s tricky to get your head around sours when you first taste them. It’s even trickier for the beer industry as we attempt to define such a broad scope of flavours with a single term. What isn’t tricky is enjoying this banger from Run DMC. Ideally paired during a lively bottle share when you start bringing your lambic collection up from the cellar.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total Ales, and Good Beer Hunting, and on Twitter @totalcurtis. And you can get Alvinne Wild West delivered to your door via our online shop.

No More Heroes XXI – Townshend’s Flemish Stout

The first thing I remember about my early beer experiences in New Zealand is the ubiquitous New Zealand Draught. This solid, yet simple variety of draught beer from brands such as Tui, Speight’s and Lion is the first thing folks might think of when it comes to NZ beer. However, it didn’t take me long to discover that there’s much more to Kiwi beer than NZ draught. In fact, New Zealand is home to one of the most eclectic and accomplished craft brewing communities in the world.

If you’re into your Kiwi craft beer you might have heard of brands such as Tuatara, Yeastie Boys and Garage Project, perhaps even some exciting up and coming brewers (and one of my personal favourites) such as Liberty Brew Co. Today’s beer is from one of what I would call a lesser known NZ brewer, but he’s certainly no less accomplished than the ones I’ve already mentioned.

Martin Townshend founded the brewery that shares his name back in 2005, right in the heart of NZ hop country, near the town of Nelson, at the northernmost tip of the South Island. Townshend’s Flemish Stout is a limited release beer and combines the malty girth of an imperial stout, all dark chocolate and roasted coffee, with the tangy, lactic acidity of a Flemish Red such as Rodenbach Grand Cru.

It might sound a little bonkers, but that’s because it is and perhaps the most remarkable thing is that the gentle acidity does an admirable job of disguising the 9% ABV. It’s a beer to be taken in small sips, accompanied by giant slabs of strong cheese. Hop Burns and Black might well be carrying the best range of NZ beers in the UK at the moment, and this is one that’s not to be missed.

Music Pairing: Plastic Bertrand, Ca Plane Pour Moi
It would’ve been easy to recommend some excellent Kiwi music to pair with this excellent Kiwi beer, but we picked NZ band Th’ Dudes in our previous installment, so that would hardly be fair. Instead why not enjoy this bonkers sour stout with a Belgian twist by listening to a frankly bonkers Belgian. Ladies and gentlemen, Plastic Bertrand.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total Ales, and Good Beer Hunting, and on Twitter @totalcurtis. And you can get Townshend's Flemish Stout exclusively in the UK from HB&B, delivered to your door via our online shop.

The Beer Lover’s Table: Rose Panna Cotta and Boon Framboise

When it comes to beer pairings, desserts don’t always get a whole lot of love (apart from a token nod to chocolate stout paired with, you guessed it, anything chocolate).

Instead, we gravitate towards beer’s savoury pairing potential, from burgers and pies to cheese and roast meats. That’s not wrong, of course, but think of it this way: swapping out your Moscato allows you yet another opportunity to enjoy beer at the dinner table.

I’ve always found rose to be a captivating flavour, and, clichés acknowledged, it seems a particularly appropriate choice for February. So, I turned to this panna cotta recipe. (“Panna cotta” is Italian for “cooked cream” – if you haven’t tried it before, think of crème brûlée, minus the brûlée). The rose here, balanced by vanilla and cream, is delicate, not at all soapy. And cardamom adds an additional dimension, evoking Middle Eastern desserts.

Creamy and delicately flavoured puddings can be tricky to pair with beer; avoiding anything overly bitter or sour here is key. In this case, Boon Framboise was just the thing. Frank Boon was one of the first to revive raspberry lambics back in the 1970s, and I’m glad he did. This beer is so redolent of freshly picked berries that sniffing it is like stumbling into a bramble patch (the label promises more than 300 grams of berries per litre). It’s just tart enough to cut through the creaminess of the dessert without unbalancing it – and raspberry and rose are a dream together.

Panna cotta sounds fancy, and therefore difficult to make. Luckily, it really isn’t. The active prep time for this dessert is about 15 minutes; the hardest part might be waiting the five-odd hours for it to chill and set. In other words, this should be your new dinner party or special occasion go-to.

[Just don’t knock over an entire bottle of red food colouring in your white kitchen while you’re making your panna cotta. The dye will splatter all over your appliances and floor and will somehow get inside of your washing machine (?!) and your flatmates will think you’ve committed a murder. The recipe is much harder if you do that.]

 

Rose Water Panna Cotta
Adapted from a recipe by Nigel Slater

600ml double cream
100ml whole milk
1 tsp ground cardamom
2 tsp vanilla paste or vanilla extract
3 sheets gelatin 10 tbs icing sugar
3-4 drops red food colouring (optional)
4 tsp rose water (more to taste)
300ml Greek yoghurt
Dried rose petals and nibbed pistachios for garnish (optional)

Simmer the first four ingredients in a small saucepan for 5-6 minutes, or until the mixture begins to steam and get pleasingly frothy around the edges. In the meantime, soak the gelatin sheets in a bowl of cold water.

Remove the cream mixture from the heat and add in the sugar, stirring until fully incorporated. Add the food colouring, if you want your panna cotta to look as rosy as it tastes. Next, add the rose water and gelatin leaves (they should be slippery and soft at this point) and stir to dissolve. Lastly, gently stir in the Greek yoghurt until the mixture is uniform. Taste at this point to see if the rose water is strong enough for your liking; add a few drops more if you want yours especially floral.

Pour the mixture through a sieve and into a jug. From the jug, pour into six prepared dessert cups or glasses. Cover each tightly with cling film and chill for at least five hours prior to serving. Garnish with the dried rose petals and pistachios for a bit of extra colour.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and all-around lover of tasty things. When she's not cracking open a cold one, she's probably cooking up roasted lamb with hummus. Or chicken laksa. Or pumpkin bread. You can follow her at @clairembullen.

Matthew Curtis's No More Heroes VIII – Delirium Christmas

Before we start this review, I’d like you to humour me a little. Please point your browser at your preferred music streaming service and start playing Sir Paul McCartney’s Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time. Let those bells ring out and that seasonally atonal synth part wash over you, while I tell you all about a little beer called Delirium Christmas.

The mood is right

I love Christmas - it’s one of the best times of the year to be a beer drinker. I don’t, however, enjoy the majority of seasonally inspired beers that flood the market over the holidays. I struggle with Christmas beer, be it a rebranded best bitter or an over-herbed and spiced atrocity against the alcoholic beverage industry. However, some breweries get it just right, and most of them are Belgian.

The spirit’s up

Brouwerij Huyghe’s Delirium Tremens is in itself one of the most underrated beers in the world. Its relatively low cost and the ease at which it is acquired often gets it associated, incorrectly so, with some of the super-strength beers at the lower end of the market.

We’re here tonight

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Delirium has a delicately sweet richness that’s complemented with a spicy, bone-dry finish. It’s near perfect on it’s own but when paired with a hard, nutty cheese such as Lincolnshire Poacher, it really comes into its own.

And that’s enough

Delirium Christmas seems to amplify almost every quality of its year-round brethren. It pours a beautiful, seasonally appropriate shade of chestnut and these darker malts add flavours of stewed figs and plums to the beer. It’s not quite as dry as the regular Delirium but it has that same, slightly spicy, muted bitter note that’s unmistakable in Huyghe’s range of beers.

Simply having a wonderful Christmas time

Delirium Christmas is the kind of indulgent, satisfying beer that’s perfect for this time of year. It’ll go as well with your cheese board as it will with your Christmas pud. It’s an ideal beer to turn to towards the back end of Christmas day, right before the port comes out. And it’s got a pink elephant, alternately ice skating or on a sled [wearing a Santa hat - Ed], on the label, so everyone’s a winner. There’s no doubt that even Macca himself would approve.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total Ales, and Good Beer Hunting, and on Twitter @totalcurtis. 

Big Beery Advent Calendar - Beer 10: Trappistes Rochefort 8, 9.2% (Belgium)

The International Trappist Association says: ”Trappistes Rochefort is a brown ale, brewed and bottled within the walls of the Abbey of Saint-Remy in Rochefort. The modest dimensions of this brewery enable the Trappist monks and their collaborators to perfectly control production. Rochefort 8 dates from 1955. Originally this beer was only brewed for New Year’s Eve celebrations. Rochefort 8 begins with a density of 20.8º Plato and reaches a final 9.2% ABV. Masculine in character, it lends itself best to being enjoyed among friends!”

We say: We don’t even know what “masculine in character” means, but these guys are monks and maybe they haven’t been around women for a while, so we’ll give them a break. Anyway, this is one of our favourite Trappist ales - dark, rich and raisiny, it’s the perfect accompaniment for Christmas cake or just sipping slowly, all cosied up next to an open fire (or radiator - work with what you’ve got). Did we mention it scores 100 on Ratebeer?

In Brussels, no one can hear you scream...

(Unless it's for more beer.)

Our mission is to showcase the world’s best beers in our store so we’re always on the lookout to boost our range we have on offer.

One thing we thought we could improve upon in was our Belgian beer section. Tucked away at the back of the shop over just a couple of shelves seemed a little unfair for the country that’s brought us some of the finest beers on the planet, so we thought we’d better do something about it.

The best way to go about this seemed obvious - get inspired by spending 36 hours immersed in beery wonderland. The fact it was our seven-year anniversary had absolutely nothing to do with it, of course. I mean, who spends their anniversary in Brussels? (As it turned out, not even us - both Glenn and I forgot what the actual date was and inadvertently spent our anniversary sanitising flagons in the basement. But we did eventually make it to Belgium the following day.)

In case you fancy doing a similar beer-odyssey, we’ve listed some of our highlights below. A big thanks to the wonderful beer geeks of Twitter, who came to the party in fine style when we threw out the call to crowdsource our trip and ensured we didn’t waste a minute. Of special note: @lambicqueen, @T_Marshall1982, @pisci and @pauldavieskew, who went above and beyond. Cheers guys! We can also highly recommend having a copy of Joe Stange's excellent book Around Brussels in 80 Beers to hand. 

Not only did we have a fantastic time, we now have a bigger, better and brighter Belgian section, so we all win. It’s not finished yet either - we’ll be continuing to add to it as more beers become available to us. Come check it out in store and let us know what you think.

36 hours in Brussels - highlights:

  • La Villette for some excellent traditional Belgian fare and Cantillon lambic on cask.
  • Brasserie Cantillon - it’s everything it’s hyped to be. You really can explore every facet of the brewery in action before sitting down to enjoy the beers themselves. The tour includes two free glasses, then you can purchase an insanely reasonably priced bottle of whatever you fancy and relax by the fire and enjoy it. We went home with enough bottles to fill up two suitcases and more…
  • Nuetnigenough - a fantastic little restaurant with great food and even better beer selection. Our waiter was wonderfully knowledgable and pointed us to the best beer we tasted during the trip, Alvinne’s Wild West sour ale.
  • Moeder Lambic - we only made it to the Fontainen bar, at which we enjoyed - you guessed it - more lambics, but we suspect the original would have been even better.
  • Booze n Blues - the best late night bar in Brussels and the best part of our trip. We’d go back to Brussels just to while away a couple of hours at Eddy’s bar, hijackjing his jukebox and trying to elicit a smile.
  • La Brocante - a must-do when you’re exploring the flea market (keep an eye out for cheap records at the nearby corner stores too). Great beer list and cracking hot chocolate as well.
  • Restobieres - wonderful spot run by the charming Alain whose mission in life is presumably to incorporate beer into every aspect of life, cuisine-wise at least. Make sure you have a Bink Blonde with your meal - it’s his favourite beer and not at all a bad drop.
  • Delirium - don’t go here expecting a quiet drink (unless you head upstairs to the more subdued loft), but with a beer list totalling nearly 3,000 you’d be a fool to miss out.
  • Record shops! Brussels rules for crate digging, and the excellent Caroline Music and B Sides, Veals & Geeks and 72 Records were well deserving of our euros.