The Beer Lover’s Table: Pearl Couscous With Roasted Aubergines & Tomatoes and Donzoko Northern Helles

Like many in the craft beer world, I only discovered the magic of lager in the past few years. For me, first there was Pilsner Urquell straight from the tank, with its trademark butterscotch whiff. Then there was Lost & Grounded’s Keller Pils, which I began drinking with abandon. Now – following offerings from Donzoko, Braybrooke, and other upstarts – I’ve become a true devotee of the crispy boi.

Donzoko’s Northern Helles is the brewery’s flagship, and what a thing of beauty it is. Featuring a delicately sweet grain profile – even a hint of nuttiness – it’s lightly hazy and pours a big, frothy crown of foam. Unlike your classic helles, it’s dry-hopped with Kiwi hops, which lends it a touch more bitterness than you might expect, plus a lightly floral aroma.

It’s the kind of beer I could see stocking in my fridge as a go-to – blissful after work, or shared in the park on warm days, or when settling in to watch the latest hyped prestige TV series. I can also testify it’s excellent at the dinner table – particularly with a dish like this pearl couscous.

Pearl couscous is one of the most-cooked dishes in my repertoire - it’s quick, versatile and distinct from your typical pasta. Here, I dress it up with slow-roasted tomatoes and aubergines, a small mountain of herbs, pine nuts, feta and sumac. During stretches of unexpected autumnal warmth, you can pack it away in a basket and bring it on a picnic and serve it at room temperature as an alternative to pedestrian pasta salad. You also can – and should – eat it when freshly made and still steaming, preferably straight out of the pot and with the assistance of a wooden spoon.

Both the couscous and the beer are matched in intensity and share that pleasingly nutty quality (lightly toast your couscous in oil before boiling is my tip). The beer’s gentle bitterness and carbonation also make it a foil for the olive oil-soaked aubergines and the feta crumbles. If neither party offers fanfare, they’re both emblematic of the importance, and deep satisfaction, of quotidian pleasures.

Pearl Couscous with Roasted Aubergines and Tomatoes
Serves 4-5

For the aubergines:
2 medium aubergines
2–3 teaspoons fine sea salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons sumac
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

For the tomatoes:
10 medium, vine-on tomatoes
2–3 tablespoons olive oil
1–2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
15 thyme sprigs

For the couscous:
500g pearl couscous
2–3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional
Fine sea salt, to taste
100g pine nuts
2 lemons
Large handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped
Large handful fresh mint, roughly chopped
Large handful fresh oregano, roughly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
200g feta

1. Prep the aubergines 30 minutes before you plan to start cooking. Slice each eggplant thinly and sprinkle generously with sea salt on both sides. Set aside for 30 minutes; they will release a good quantity of liquid.

2. Preheat your oven to 200° Celsius (395° Fahrenheit). Place the aubergine slices between two pieces of kitchen roll and press firmly until as much water is released as possible. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the aubergine slices in a flat layer. Drizzle over the olive oil and season with the sumac and pepper.

3. Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper. Halve your tomatoes and arrange in a single layer, cut-sides up. Drizzle over the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Scatter over the thyme sprigs.

4. Place both baking sheets in the oven and cook for approximately 30 minutes. Halfway through cooking time, rotate the baking sheets; using a pair of tongs, flip the aubergine slices (the tomatoes can remain cut-side up throughout cooking). The aubergines and tomatoes are done when they’re golden brown and very soft. Remove from the oven and set aside.

5. Meanwhile, start cooking the couscous. Add 2–3 tablespoons olive oil to a large saucepan and place over medium-high heat. When hot, add the couscous. Cook for approximately 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until golden and lightly toasted. Pour over boiling water and season generously with salt. Cook for roughly 15 minutes, or until al dente. Drain.

6. While the couscous cooks, toast the pine nuts. Place a small frying pan over medium heat and add the pine nuts when hot. Cook, tossing frequently, for approximately 5 minutes, or until golden-brown and fragrant. Remove from the heat and set aside.

7. Return the drained couscous to the pot. Grate over the zest of the 2 lemons; halve and squeeze over the juice. Drizzle over 1–2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Add the chopped herbs and the black pepper, and stir to evenly combine. Once slightly cooled, crumble over the feta and stir through.

8. Just before serving, transfer the cooked aubergines and tomatoes to the couscous and stir until just mixed through. Serve while still warm or at room temperature.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is out now and available in all good book stores (and at HB&B). Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen.

Fundamentals #53 - Augustinerbräu München Lagerbier Hell

“Are you sure?” I ask Hop Burns & Black co-owner Jen Ferguson when she shoves a familiar bottle of one of Bavaria’s very best lagers, Augustiner Helles, into my hand.

The reason for my doubt is because, by and large, the beers I review in this column are completely new to me. Such is the never-ending slew of new releases these days that I’m rarely short of something fresh and exciting to try.

Not this time, however. Today I am reviewing the all-time classic, the stalwart, old man Augustiner. One of the greatest beers on earth. A beer I buy regularly such is both its excellence and its dependability. What this does gift me with is the rare opportunity to ruminate on this particular beer’s greatness. Augustiner Helles is not usually a beer I have to put much thought into enjoying. It’s a beer that fits into almost any occasion, be it a cold bottle in the confines of a darkened London bar, a sundrenched Munich biergarten or, wherever, really. There is rarely a time when this lager is not appropriate.

What is about this beer that gives it such majesty? Why do I find it so appealing, time after time? These are some of the questions whirring through my head as I slowly, yet firmly pour the beer into my glass, ensuring I knock enough carbon dioxide out of suspension to produce the firm head of foam this beer always deserves (trust me, it enhances the hop flavour and aroma.)

But quickly I remember this is not a beer to be analysed or overthought. Sure, I could go into detail about its supple, soft breadiness, and how these delicate malt flavours are balanced by the fresh, herbaceous snap of German noble hops, followed by the tiniest twinge of acidity before a wave of bitterness brings dryness to the back of your palate. But that would do this beer an injustice. Augustiner is not a beer to bear the burden of heavy thought. It’s a beer that commands a lack of thought, as you enjoy long, deep gulps in quick succession… followed by a crack and hiss as you inevitably begin to prise the cap off your next bottle.

Matthew Curtis is a writer, photographer and editor of Pellicle Magazine. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis and @pelliclemag.

Fundamentals #44 — Zehendner Mönchsambacher Lager

The winking monk on the label of Brauerei Zehendner’s Mönchsambacher lager knows something you don’t. I’m convinced that little halo his silhouette casts on the wall behind him belies his true intentions. He may appear to be an innocent man of the cloth but he knows you’re about to get into something unexpected, something devilishly good, and I am powerless to resist his charms.

In any case, that’s certainly the impression I took after my first taste of this beguiling Franconian lager. Hailing from the town of Mönchsambach, a few miles south west of Bamberg, this is the first time I’ve come across anything from Zehendner. When HB&B’s Jen sent me an enthusiastic email singing the beer’s praises, I just had to try it. When she pointed out its rarity in this country, I became doubly interested in securing a bottle.

There’s something incredibly satisfying about German import lagers. From holding the chunky 500ml bottle in your hand (which I’m convinced are going to come back in a big way over the next year or so) to noticing the little things like the worn ridges of the many-times-recycled bottle and the small nicks on the label indicating its best before date.

Plus you get plenty of beer to enjoy. Take my advice and try building up a big head of foam in your glass with a slow pour. Don’t pour down the side of the glass, pour slow and straight, filling the glass about a third of the way up. After leaving it for a moment add another third, allowing it to settle once more, then topping up the glass, hopefully leaving you with a moussey white head of foam an inch or more thick.

What this does is release some carbonation and laces that foam with hop oils, giving this beer a wonderfully herbal bouquet of German noble hops. However, the hops are barely half the story here, as this is a Franconian lager, and the real story is about the rich, almost juicy malt character that gives Mönchsambacher a sweetness that rings like a church bell, our friend the winking monk no doubt on ringing duty.

It’s a big beer for its style at 5.5%, but it drinks easy and as such won’t last you long. And as the brewers give this beer a best before date of just six weeks, make sure you drink this fresh.

Matthew Curtis is a freelance writer, photographer and author of our award-winning Fundamentals column. He's written for publications including BEER, Ferment, Good Beer Hunting and Original Gravity. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis. Such has been the overwhelming demand for this beer - and the brevity of its mandated freshness - that we’re completely sold out. Sorry- but keep your eyes peeled for next time…

#HBBAdvent Beer 10: Wild Beer Sleeping Limes (Somerset)

Wild Beer says: Limes + Sea Salt + Lager. Clean and crisp with refreshing tangy limes and a Moorish briny finish, this is our perfect summer beer. It originally took inspiration from Sleeping Lemons and the beautiful preserved lemons we use, but the idea developed into a cleaner beer, taking the Corona and lime wedge and stepping it up a notch. Brewing a beer around the taste of lime naturally led us to using this beautiful citrus fruit, utilising both the fresh pulp and the zest. A clean and crisp base was achieved by using a lager yeast with the lime building an addictive tang to the pallet and a gose inspired flurry of salt adding to the finish.

We say: Sleeping Limes was one of the beers of our summer, too - on its own, icy-cold, straight from the fridge, or as a top-up for Jen’s legendary Michelada mash-ups… Now that it’s well into autumn/winter, we’re so glad to see Wild Beer continuing this cracking brew. As well as a welcome dose of Vitamin C (maybe), it’s a hotline for your tastebuds, direct to those gloriously sweltering days of summer ‘18….

#HBBAdvent Beer 3: Lost & Grounded Keller Pils (Bristol)

Lost & Grounded says: Sometimes the simple things in life are the best. We take Pilsner malt from Germany and combine with three traditional hop varieties – Magnum, Perle and Hallertauer Mittelfruh – to produce a clean, unfiltered, Hop Bitter Lager Beer.

We say: LAGER IS LIFE! No seriously, it is, and these guys have worked out the meaning of life with Keller Pils, one of the best lagers being brewed in the UK right now. Inspired by the German greats, it holds its own against them too - clean, crisp, with exactly the right amount of bitterness. Also, it’s made by terrific people, so you know you’re drinking a labour of love. Mondays were made for this.

Fundamentals #38 — Braybrooke Keller Lager

The greatest thing about beer trends is that if you bang on about one for long enough then chances are it’ll eventually come true. Like many of my beer-writing, peers I’ve been long stating that the time of the lager will soon dawn once more. Only this will not be another era of mass-produced, commodity Euro-lagers. These will be beers both rooted deeply in tradition and inspired by the cutting edge, from the nuanced and delicate to the boisterous and intense.

Keller Lager, from Brit newcomer Braybrooke, leans towards the more traditional aspects of the style, inspired by the Keller beers of Franconia, to the north of Bavaria, in Germany. And if you dig into the story of this brewery a little, that soon makes an awful lot of sense. Despite being based in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, the roots of this particular brewery can be found at Mahrs Bräu in Bamberg, Germany.

Originally founded in 1611, these days Mahrs Bräu is under the supervision of brewer Stephan Michel, who is also heavily involved in the production of beer at Braybrooke, holding the title of “resident brewing guru”. This means that Braybrooke gets to take advantage of Michel’s immense brewing knowledge as it attempts to bring the classic taste of Franconian lagers to UK drinkers. In fact, Braybrooke’s flagship Keller Lager is reportedly based directly on the recipe of Mahrs Bräu’s famous Ungespundet Naturtrüb, or aU (pronounced ‘ah-ooh’) for short - which, by coincidence, happens to be one of my favourite beers.

Does Braybrooke’s Keller Lager live up to its inspiration though? Absolutely. I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the most enjoyable beers I’ve tried from a new British brewery for some time. Something I love about Franconian-style lagers is the intricacy of the malt flavour, and how it supports the entire beer. In fact, it’s something I once described to fellow HB&B writer Claire Bullen in one of my more hyperbolic moments as a “crystalline lattice of pleasure”. And that’s kind of how I feel about this beer.

The malt, which is imported from Bamberg, provides a platform that is as delicate as it is bold, building pillars of biscuit and caramel on the palate which the peppery, herbal notes of noble hops seem to dance around like maypoles in spring...

Wait, I think that was another one of my moments. But in all seriousness, this is a very good lager. One that you’ll likely enjoy drinking without much thought as I did contemplating every delicious mouthful. I am already looking forward a great deal to the next time I get to enjoy this beer.

Find our beer writer Matthew Curtis on Twitter @totalcurtis.

#HBBAdvent Beer 13: Gipsy Hill Superfan Dry-Hopped Bohemian Pilsner (SE London)

Gipsy Hill says: Superfan is a Bohemian style Pilsner. Lagered for seven weeks and gently hopped, it's a floral, delicate Pilsner.

We say: We're the humble lager's biggest fan - in a world of pastry stouts and bosh-worthy hazy juice bombs, sometimes there's no greater pleasure than the joy of a crisp, clean lager. One of our litmus tests for a decent brewery is one that can get a lager right - there ain't no hiding with this style. 

Of course, Gipsy Hill's credentials were never in doubt, but it's always nice to get confirmation. Crisp, clean and a great little mid-week cleanser. - Jen

#HBBAdvent Beer 2: Augustiner Lagerbier Hell (Germany)

Augustiner says: A particularly mild, sparkling, long stored beer, refreshing and easily digestible at the same time. Uniquely in its taste, a benefit for each beer connoisseur.

We say: The name is hell but you're in beer heaven...

I've been advised that I can't describe it as "the king of beers" as that is copyright infringement, but without a doubt Augustiner is lager royalty. Our 5th best selling beer of 2017 - but always number one in my heart.

Pours golden straw with medium size white head, moderate hopped, floral notes. Lively carbonation.... Go to hell, Ratebeer. - Lewis

Never Going to Give You Hops - HB&B meets Rick Astley


In 1987, I, like most of the pop-loving world, played Rick Astley’s mega hits to death on my trusty Walkman. I like to think I’d bought the album but to be honest, it’s more likely I’d dubbed them off the radio because that’s just what we did back then. (Sorry to cost you those royalties, Rick.)

Anyway, they always say never to meet your heroes, but I’m 30 years older now and when the invitation came through - “Do you want to interview Rick Astley about beer?” - I figured I could handle it. After I’d stopped jumping around the room and screaming, I dug out my old 7” of Never Going To Give You Up, found a marker pen and headed off to behave like a grown-up at the Draft House Hammersmith where he was launching his new beer with Mikkeller, Astley’s Northern Hop.

Over a pint of said beer, I managed to grab a few minutes with him before his people rushed him off to soundcheck for his gig that night at the Royal Albert Hall, where Astley’s Northern Hop would be available for the first time for fans to buy.


How did this all come about? The story goes that there was a rumour going around that you lived in Copenhagen which made childhood fan Mikkel [Mikkeller founder Mikkel Borg Bjergsø] want to brew a beer with you...
"The truth of it, I’m not exactly sure, but Mikkel said he was a real fan of mine when he was young so he thought it would be a fun thing to do. I think I agreed because Mikkeller is Danish - if, say, a Belgian or German brewery had approached me, I might not have been so keen. But even though I don’t live there, I almost consider myself a percentage Danish these days. My wife’s Danish, I speak a little Danish, my daughter lives there, whenever anything comes up, I’m pro-Denmark.

So we got chatting and I was really honest with Mikkel. I said, 'Look, I know nothing about this, I’m not even heavily into craft beer', but he took that on board and that’s what’s made it such a fun thing. They didn’t expect me to jump around and say, 'We should do this or use these hops.' I said, 'Let’s just make something I like.'

I tried a whole lot of beers in the process. Some of the beers Mikkeller sent over I couldn’t actually drink! I think I’d be able to drink some of them now, knowing and understanding a lot more about the craft beer world, but if you’re used to going down the pub and having a pint of bitter, and then you’re presented with this red thing… "

On that note, did you ever think about doing a rick-roll with this beer - calling it a lager on the bottle and have it turn out to be some crazy Flemish red that tastes a bit like vinegar to the unwary palate?
"No! Some of the beers they sent the first time were so out there, I thought, 'I’m not sure I’m going to be able to do this. I just really want to be able to enjoy this beer at home and with my mates and family.' So they sent another batch and these ones were all very drinkable, so I narrowed them down to about half a dozen. I couldn’t tell you why I liked them or even describe them, but luckily Mikkel managed to work it out and we went from there." 

Were you ever tempted to call it Never Going to Give You Hops?
"Ha! The name was the hardest thing. I didn’t even know if I should put my name on it, to be honest. In the end, I’m kind of a professional Northerner to some degree - even though I’ve lived down here for 30 years, my accent hasn’t ever changed. So the name - Northern Hop - made sense to me. I wanted it to be something that if someone was to drink it in any part of the country, it didn’t feel elitist. I wanted them to say, 'Oh yeah, it’s a beer. It’s real beer, it’s a great beer.'" 

Have you got a taste for this brewing thing now? Will you make a beer again?
"We’ll have to wait and see. I didn’t do this because it’s a business venture, I just did it because it was a fun thing to do. I like it. It’s so different from what I normally do. And you know, I work with a bunch of geeks - musicians, tech guys, we’re all proper geeks. And this is just another bunch of geeks doing something else. It’s great." 


Rick is a thoroughly top bloke and refreshingly honest about his experience in the world of craft beer (this is a man who said he was never gonna tell a lie, after all). It was a genuine pleasure to meet him, and I'd think that even if I hadn't been a former tweenage fangirl.

It's tempting to write something like this off as a gimmick, but even though I may have initially been a little disappointed the beer wasn’t a giant rick-roll, I wholeheartedly admire the fact Rick stuck to his guns and made a beer he wanted to drink. It’s a lovely drop and I think he’s achieved his objective of making a beer that anyone can enjoy. Once again, Rick hasn’t let us down. - Jen

WIN: From tomorrow, we'll have Astley's Northern Hop available to buy in store and online. Everyone who buys a bottle will go in the draw to win a Mikkeller goodie bag containing a T-shirt, glass and a copy of the awesome brewing bible, Mikkeller's Book of Beer. We'll draw a winner on Monday 15 May.

The Beer Lover’s Table: Cast Iron Skillet Pizza and Cloudwater IPL El Dorado Mosaic

February is a fitting time to celebrate one of history’s greatest love affairs.

Yes: I’m talking about pizza and beer. I hardly need to explain why the two go hand-in- hand, why there’s carbful chemistry between the cheesy and chewy and the bubbly and refreshing.

While it’s pretty much impossible to dismiss the match, there are a couple of schools of thought when it comes to the pairing specifics. Some argue for lager’s thirst-quenching fizz, while others bat for IPA as pizza’s natural partner. Me, I think Cloudwater’s newly canned IPL El Dorado Mosaic is the best of both worlds. As bold as it is boshable, it’s perfection with a slice of pie. There’s even a whiff of the floral on the nose, which means it plays beautifully with ingredients like fresh basil and delicate ricotta.

All that’s left to do, then, is to make yourself some pizza from scratch. If that sounds a little intimidating, you’re not alone; baking with yeast seems to be one of those culinary challenges that strikes fear into the hearts of even the most seasoned cooks. But trust me: you don’t have to be Bake Off-worthy to master this dough (it takes less than 10 minutes of active time to throw together).

Created first by Jim Lahey — the man who’s best known for his cult favourite no-knead bread — and tweaked by Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, this dough recipe yields a pizza that, in a cast-iron skillet, takes on an appealing crunch but has a rustic, bready heartiness to it, too. Combined with a sauce made of whole, canned plum tomatoes, it’s as good as homemade pizza gets.

If you ask me, any pizza worth its salt needs at least three kinds of cheese, and this one also obliges. I’ve topped mine with mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano and ricotta. Add a finishing flourish of chilli-infused honey and fresh basil to make a showstopper.

(The only downside? The dough recipe may be ludicrously simple, but it needs roughly 24 hours to rise. Best get cooking.)

Cast Iron Skillet Pizza
Yields 2 25-30cm pizzas

For the dough:
375g (3 cups) all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp fast-action dry yeast
1 ½ tsp sea salt 300ml water

For the sauce:
2 400g tins whole, peeled plum tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, minced
¾ tsp sea salt
¾ tsp caster sugar
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

For the pizza:
200g mozzarella (preferably not packed in water)
Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano
Extra virgin olive oil
Ricotta Fresh basil
Chilli-infused honey*

First, make your pizza dough. Roughly 24 hours before you plan to eat your pizza, add the flour, yeast, sea salt, and water to a large bowl, stirring until fully combined. Cover with clingfilm and let sit in a non-draughty part of your house for one day.

The next day, preheat your oven to as hot as it will go (mine went to 300 degrees C). Before you get back to your waiting dough, prep your sauce. Drain the tins of tomatoes, emptying contents into a sieve set over a large bowl. Allow the excess liquid to drain off for 20-30 minutes, stirring and pressing on the tomatoes to make sure as much is removed as possible. (As Deb Perelman points out, this reserved tomato juice is ideal for Bloody Marys - don’t throw it out!)

Once the tomatoes are drained, add them to a food processor with the garlic, salt, sugar, and pepper. Blend until smooth. Set aside.

Next, prepare your cast iron skillet (note: if you don’t have one, you can also make one large pizza on a full-sized baking sheet). Pour a bit of olive oil onto a paper towel and wipe a thin layer onto the skillet. Take a small handful of cornmeal and sprinkle over, knocking away any excess into the sink.

Onto your dough: when you remove the clingfilm, you should find it looking bubbly and smelling wonderfully yeasty. Ensure your countertop is covered with lots of flour before dumping out the dough. This dough is almost alarmingly liquid and sticky, and will nearly puddle onto the counter. Don’t worry: this is how it’s supposed to be. Cover the dough’s surface with a sprinkling of flour, and, with a pastry cutter or sharp knife, divide into two equal portions. With floured hands, scoop one of the portions into a rough ball-shape, allowing it to stretch and fall onto the counter from your hands several times. Then, pick it up and place it into the centre of your prepared skillet. This dough is too soft to roll out; instead, use your fingertips to press it delicately towards the edges of the pan.

Once the dough is ready, top with half of the prepared sauce, leaving a small margin at the edges. Slice half of your mozzarella into thin pieces and arrange on top of the pizza. Top with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of Parmigiano before placing in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes before rotating slightly to prevent burning. Bake for another 3-5 minutes until it emerges risen, leopard-spotted and audibly sizzling.

Remove from the oven and allow the pizza to rest for 1-2 minutes. Before serving, finish it off by topping with another handful of Parmigiano, scoops of milky ricotta, fresh basil leaves and a generous crosshatch of chilli-infused honey. (Once it’s been devoured, don’t forget about the other half of the dough — make a second pizza, which should keep well for a day or two. Breakfast, anyone?)

*I used Mike’s Hot Honey, but it’s very simple to make your own chilli-infused honey.

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. And pick up some Cloudwater IPL El Dorado Mosaic while stocks last in store or at our online shop

#HBBAdvent Beer 7: Thornbridge Lukas Helles Lager (Derbyshire)

Thornbridge says: Helles is a traditional, elegant Bavarian style of beer originating in Munich. Lukas is straw blonde, full-bodied yet sparklingly light. This Helles exudes a subtle, freshly baked bread maltiness, balanced with an elegant noble hop aroma. The finish is clean, crisp and satisfying.

We say: We’re lucky to host an informal weekly gathering of Bermondsey brewers at the shop, who routinely drink us out of Augustiner’s excellent Helles lager on their visits. When Ben from the Kernel told us to get Lukas on our radar, we took notice - this is a man who knows good beer. I'll crawl over 50 good pale ales just to get to one perfectly brewed Helles - lager snobbery has no place around here. A testament to no-nonsense expert brewing, this is closest you can get to Munich without leaving the country and, as Ben can attest to, the perfect Wednesday night drink. - Glenn

Each night, we'll reveal the day's hand-picked beer from our Big Beery Advent Calendar. Feel free to comment below or have your say on Twitter or Instagram (#HBBAdvent). Find Thornbridge Lukas in store or via our online shop.

HB&B Top Three: Lager, lager, lager

So here we are, in the height of our Great British Summer and how is everyone quenching their thirsts? Besides the abundance of funky, fruity sours flying off our shelves, we’ve never before had quite so many excellent lagers to choose from. From your classic Bavarian Helles to NZ pilsners, you can wave goodbye to watery, adjunct lagers… Here are our top three picks.

Orbit Nico Koln-style Lager 4.8%
Just off the Walworth Road in SE London, Orbit started out in 2014 and Nico, their modern take on the traditional beers of Cologne, is a permanent fixture on our shelves. It straddles a lager/ale definition because, although it undergoes the lagering process, it’s made with top-fermenting ale yeast, making this a light and crisp beer with more assertive aroma and robust taste than you might expect.

Thornbridge Lukas Helles Lager 4.2%
We were alerted to the greatness of this beer by The Kernel’s brew team. When they come to ours for post-work drinks, they usually bypass the big hoppy brews and head straight for a cold lager. Lukas, brewed in Derbyshire, is a fantastic example of a traditional Helles made outside of Germany. It’s subtly full-bodied, bready and malty, whilst being effervescently light and absolutely smashable on a sunny day, a rainy day or any given day.

Augustiner Lagerbier Hell 5.2%
Although no longer staffed by the Augustine monks that gave the brewery its name in the 14th Century, Augustiner Brau Munchen continues the tradition of making classically German beer. With its mild, malty sweetness and crisp, grassy flavour, this brilliantly clear and refreshing beer might just be one of the best lagers in the world…

As selected by HB&B Assistant Manager Catherine Lockhart

The Beer Lover's Table: Orbit Nico Köln-Style Lager and Spiced Chinese Dumplings

Chinese dumplings and lager: they go together like milk and cookies. Preferably a lager that’s effervescent, not too boozy, with a finishing bite of bitterness: just the thing to cut through the dumplings’ oiliness, and to counterbalance all that salt. And while your local Chinese restaurant’s go-to might be Tsingtao, you can do one better with something carefully crafted and made a little closer to home. Orbit Nico, for instance, which washes down these dumplings like a dream.

Technically, this beer might not be the best illustration of lager’s Chinese food affinity. Described by the brewery as a “Köln-style lager” – it can’t call itself a Kölsch, thanks to the style’s geographical indication – this funny hybrid of a brew straddles the lager-ale divide. While it undergoes a period of cold storage that typifies lager production, it’s made with top-fermenting ale yeast.

Stylistic quibbles aside: what you need to know is that lager-like Orbit Nico is mighty drinkable, with a nice twang of lemon, a touch of grassiness, and a pleasingly dry finish. Time to get cooking.

I know what you’re thinking: homemade dumplings? Nah, that’s what takeaway’s for. But bear with me here: making these is no more complicated than turning out a batch of said cookies. The filling, a fragrant mixture of lamb, pork, soy sauce, ginger, and a generous amount of spices, takes only minutes to prep. And thanks to the totally legit option of pre-made dumpling skins – you might also find these sold at Asian grocery stores as “wonton wrappers” or “gyoza wrappers” – a few quick folds and you’ve got the perfect little meat parcel ready to go.

Pro-tip: you’ve made a whole batch, chuck ’em in the freezer and have dumplings and lager whenever you want them – no delivery fee required.

Spiced Chinese Dumplings
Yields 56 dumplings

250g minced lamb
250g minced pork
1 thumb-sized piece ginger, peeled and minced
2 bunches garlic chives or spring onions, finely chopped
2 large eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp Shaoxing Rice Wine
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
4 tsp soy sauce
5 tsp sesame oil
1 56-piece packet dumpling wrappers
To serve: additional soy sauce, Chinkiang black vinegar, Sriracha

To a large bowl, add the lamb and pork followed by the ginger, garlic chives, eggs, salt, sugar, rice wine, spices, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Mix until all ingredients are fully incorporated and the mixture is uniform. It should be fragrant and quite wet.

Before you fold your dumplings, prepare a small bowl of water and a clean cutting board or other work surface (and don’t forget to keep a good amount of kitchen roll nearby). Lay your first dumpling skin flat on the work surface and fill with roughly 1 ½–2 teaspoons of filling. It’s better to err on the side of less filling, as over-filling your dumplings may cause them to leak when cooking.

Wet your finger in the bowl of water and run around the circumference of the dumpling wrapper to moisten. Fold your dumpling in half so it’s a half-moon shape and lightly seal the seam. Now, beginning from one end, pinch and fold over so you make a small pleat. Continue until the entire edge of the dumpling is pleated, which ensures that it is well sealed (and looks pretty, besides). Continue until all your dumplings have been made.

While you could boil or steam your dumplings, my favourite cooking method is a combination of pan frying and steaming, which makes for juicy insides and a nicely crisp, browned bottom. In a small, non-stick frying pan (the non-stick part is important here!) add approximately 1 tablespoon of sesame oil and a wee splash of vegetable oil. Heat until oil mixture is hot. Add dumplings (8 is a good number for one portion) and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until bottoms have browned.

Now, pour in just enough water to come roughly halfway up the sides of the dumplings. Cover and cook for approximately five minutes, until dumplings have swelled and are tender. Remove the lid and, if water remains, swirl the pan gently until it evaporates. I like to leave the dumplings in the pan with the residual oil for an extra minute or two here, so their bottoms get crisped up again.

To serve, prepare a small dish of one part soy sauce to one part Chinkiang black vinegar for dumpling dunking. And don’t forget the Sriracha!

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 XIII – Früh Kölsch

Recently, after a particularly strenuous day, I headed in to Hop Burns & Black for a couple of beers, as you do. Choosing one beer when presented with a breadth of quality as in a shop such as this can be tough – but not on this occasion. I was hypnotised, almost instantly, by the red and white spirals that wrap themselves around a can of Früh Kölsch.

Kölsch as a beer style is often criminally overlooked, for me at least. I’m pleased to see that UK brewers such as Thornbridge and Orbit are having a crack at producing their own interpretations of the style though.

I love the concept of Kölsch: a light bodied beer, fermented like an ale but then conditioned as a lager. It’s perhaps closer to the latter in terms of body and flavour, but something about the fermentation method allows the yeast to come to the fore. Subtle notes of red berries and stone fruit mixed with crushed grain and just the faintest hint of bitterness are the hallmarks of a good Kölsch.

The style originates from the German city of Cologne and there’s probably no place better to enjoy a Kölsch than at its origin point. It’s a style that’s also found a lot of favour in the US, being a staple on the taps at pretty much any brewpub you decide to rock up to. A lot of these never quite hits the mark like a Kölsch really can, though. I think Früh is perhaps my favourite example of the style, wherever I happen to find it – be it at a street side Cologne bar, or in the fridge at my local bottle shop.

With this year being the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot – the German beer purity law of 1516 - there will surely be a lot of discussion centered around the German classics. There’ll also be a chance to dwell on the beers that exist as a direct result of this law, such as this superb Kölsch. However in my opinion these beers were never meant to be dwelled upon, so I’d just get on with drinking it.

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

Matthew Curtis's No More Heroes IX – Camden Town Brewery Beer 2015

By now it’s likely you’ve heard the news that last week Camden Town Brewery sold to AB-InBev, the largest drinks company in the world, who produce beers such as Stella Artois and Budweiser.

As a local to the brewery and a supporter of small, independent producers, I struggled to hide my disappointment at the news. I collected a few of my thoughts about the takeover on my own blog here. But despite my disappointment, it’s important to remember that Camden still produces some of the best beers in the country and that they’re spearheading a lager revolution in the UK.

Lager is the most popular style of beer in the world, accounting for about 70% of all beer consumed across the globe. With its Unfiltered Hells, Pils and India Hells Lager, Camden are producing three of the most interesting and flavourful riffs on the lager style you’ll find. It’s important to remember that the change in ownership won’t instantly reduce the quality of the beers fermenting away under the arches at its Kentish Town brewery.

Camden also do a lot more experimentation than people realise, which includes a small yet tasteful barrel ageing program that’s been running for a couple of years. The most recent release from this stable is Beer 2015, the third in a series of beers produced to mark the end of the year.

Beer 2015 is a strong lager that’s been aged in second fill whisky, tequila and rum barrels. As these barrels have already been used to age beer in before the flavours absorbed by the beer are less intense but are by no means less complex. What you’ll find is a slightly sweet beer with a flavour reminiscent of an Oloroso sherry. This is followed by a sharp, tannic bite, almost like black tea, which is rounded out with just a hint of oak as the finish dies.

It’s a special beer, and shows what Camden is capable of producing. Beers in big bottles like this are ideal for sharing on New Year's Eve, I know I’ll be cracking one open. Here’s a happy new year from me, and a toast to all the great beer yet to be discovered in 2016.

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 6: Orbit Nico Koln Style Lager, 4.8% (SE London)

Each night at 8pm, we'll post a blog about the day's hand-picked beer in our Big Beery Advent Calendar - why we love the brewery, why we've chosen the beer, why we think you'll love it too. Feel free to comment below or have your say on Twitter.

Orbit says: "Our take on the traditional beers of Cologne. Light, crisp and fragrant."

We say: Lager is often the unloved sibling of the beer world thanks to the indignities heaped upon it by big brewing over the years, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Breweries such as Orbit are doing amazing things to restore lager’s good name. This is a fantastic tribute to the traditional Kolsch style - and if we needed further proof of its greatness, along with Augustiner Lagerbier Hells, this is the go-to beer the Kernel and Partizan brewing team drink when they visit the shop. Praise doesn't come higher than that.

Matthew Curtis's Unsung Heroes #2: Augustiner Lagerbier Hell

I don’t want to put a downer on your day but it’s time we faced facts – summer is almost over. Chin up, there’s no need to be glum. I know the deluge of the last few days probably has you reaching into the back of your cupboard for darker beers but I’m confident we can still squeeze out a few more warm days and nights before autumn sets in good and proper.

In order to sustain the Great British Summer for as long as possible, I implore you to drink lots of lager. Yes, lager. I’m not talking about the mass produced, adjunct-laden lager you used to drink when you went clubbing in the late 90s though. There’s a brilliant lager revolution happening all around us. More and more brewers are discovering the beauty in the subtlety of the world’s most popular beer style.

Although some of the most popular brewers in the UK and US are having a crack at imitating the best German Helles and Czech Pilsners around, it’s important to never forget the classics. One of my favourites is the indomitable Lagerbier Hell from Munich’s Augustiner-Bräu.

When you pour this straw-pale beer, make sure you give yourself at least an inch of foam at the top of your glass. This will allow the beer to release its grassy, lemon pith aroma. When you taste it there’s an initial note of freshly baked white bread, which is soon snapped away by a rasping, herbal bitterness.

For me, this beer encapsulates summer. In fact I’d suggest if it’s still pouring with rain outside, that you pour yourself one of these, close your eyes and imagine you’re sat in a sun-drenched Bavarian beer garden, soaking up the last of the summer sun.

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