Fundamentals #21 – Siren Craft Brew Old Fashioned Barleywine

Bourbon truly is a wonderful thing. The legal guidelines a spirit must follow in order to be classed as bourbon are also incredibly strict – as should be the case in the creation of such a venerable beverage. It must be produced within the United States from a grain bill that consists of at least 51% corn. It must be aged in first use, charred oak barrels and it must be distilled to no higher than 80% alcohol, entering the barrel itself at no more than 62.5% alcohol.

As with all whisky – whiskey to our Irish and American friends – the finished product must be at least 40% alcohol by volume. However unlike other whiskies, which must be aged for at least three years and a day to earn that title, bourbon does not need to be aged for any specific length of time to earn its name. Some bourbons on the market can spend as little as three months in barrel, although anything which calls itself “straight” bourbon will have been aged for at least two years.

Like whiskey, bourbon also has a lot in common with beer. Before being distilled, the base liquid is brewed, and malted grains such as wheat, rye and barley augment the remainder of the recipe. This shared ancestry may be why, in part, why many beers fare incredibly well if they are aged in ex-bourbon casks. Enter Old Fashioned, a barleywine from the wizards at Berkshire’s Siren Craft Brewery, which aims to emulate the classic, bourbon-based cocktail.

Sweet notes of vanilla and toasted coconut are immediately apparent on the nose, as the viscous liquid snakes its way into your glass – a wide brimmed brandy-style snifter or a Teku being ideal for this particular style of beer. To taste the beer is very sweet, with flavours of barley sugar and more vanilla present from the outset. This ever-present sweetness is balanced by deep, warming notes of alcohol, with the essence of the bourbon notes imbued into this beer by the barrels it inhabited for 12 months, softening and rounding out the finished product.

If I had to ask one thing of this homage to the Old Fashioned, it would be a whisper more of the promised orange peel. Some extra citrus would really lift this beer to the next level. Despite this, it’s still a stellar effort from the Berkshire brewery. This is a beer to enjoy now, before the days begin to get longer and warmer at the end of the month. Or simply hang on to it until it starts to get colder again, and see what a bit of age might do to this beer.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Treat yourself to a bottle of Siren Old Fashioned in store or online while stocks last.

The Beer Lover’s Table: Perfect Roast Duck and Savour Dubbel

This year, I threw convention to the wind. This year, I said “fuck it” to the status quo.

This year, I made duck for Thanksgiving.

Ask any American: this, simply, is not done. Duck on Turkey Day? Impossible. And while Thanksgiving might not mean a lot to the Brits in the audience, I can bet that most of you will be staring down a turkey at some point in the next week. And I can also bet that many of you aren’t thrilled at the idea.

There are a few reasons why duck is just irrefutably, objectively better than turkey. It’s cheaper, for one thing. It actually fits in your oven (even if you roast two at once, as I did on Thanksgiving). It’s faster to cook. And, for god’s sake, it’s 10 times more delicious. And it’s supremely beer-friendly.

Just wait. If you haven’t roasted a duck before, it might seem daunting – somehow more complicated than yer bog-standard roast chicken. But don’t worry: follow the recipe below and you should be well taken care of. If you want to give your duck a bit of extra zing beyond the salt and pepper, you can (read: should) also make a quick glaze. This one is a surprising blend of orange juice, soy, maple and black treacle, with a fiery squirt of sriracha sauce for good measure. It helps make this a proper, truly special occasion duck; one worthy of gracing your Christmas table.

That glaze also means this duck goes extra well with our pairing beer of choice: the delicious Dubbel made by Savour Beer. I hadn’t yet sampled the Windsor-based brewery’s line of “British saison beers” until Jen knowingly pointed me in their direction. This beer is plummy and strong, tickly with Belgian-y esters and beautifully burnished with flavours of extra-dark caramel. Black treacle, even. It’s absolutely drinkable on its own, perfectly seasonal, but with a duck on the side? Man. Who could want anything else for Christmas?

Perfect Roast Duck

Expert advice courtesy of Miranda Ballard of Muddy Boots

1 Gressingham duck, the plumper and fattier the better (at least 2.2-2.4 kilos)
3-4 tbs olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

First, prep your duck. Take it out of any packaging and let it come to room temperature, approximately an hour. Remove any small feather quills that may be left in its skin, and pat dry with kitchen roll (no need to rinse your duck: cold water risks leaving it flabby- skinned, and your oven’s heat is enough to make it safe).

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C. In lieu of scoring your duck’s skin and fat, use a sharp knife to poke small holes in its skin, concentrating on the breast and areas around the thighs. These will let any rendered fat escape, leaving you with crisp skin (!). Season all over, inside and out, with salt and pepper, and massage a bit of olive oil into your duck while you’re at it.

Line a large baking sheet with foil and fit a non-stick rack inside it. Place your duck breast-side up and throw it in the oven. Blast for 20 minutes at 200 degrees before turning the oven down to 170 C. Even after 20 minutes, your duck should be puffed up and spitting and smelling exciting.

Cook for half an hour at 170 C. Remove from the oven and flip the duck so it’s breast- side down (note: this is a good opportunity to *carefully* drain the rendered duck fat from the bottom of your baking sheet, which, by now, has probably accumulated in great quantities). Roast breast-side down for 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and flip back to breast-side up. Roast for 20-30 minutes more, until fully golden and fragrant and wonderful. If making a glaze, follow additional directions below.

Festive Glaze

Adapted from The Hungry Mouse

2 tbs black treacle (or molasses)
2 tbs orange juice
2 tbs maple syrup
2 tbs dark soy sauce
1 tbs sriracha

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Let cook off for a minute or two and remove from the heat. The glaze should be sticky, and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Remove the duck from the oven and bring the heat back up to 200 C. Drizzle the glaze over the duck and roast for five more minutes, until it’s perfectly tanned. Let it rest for 10-15 minutes, yadda yadda, or just go to town. Pour any unused glaze into a bowl and let guests sauce up their ducks at the table, if they so desire.

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.

Big Beery Advent Calendar - Beer 9: Siren Craft Brew Blue Sky Blue Sea Seaweed & Cloudberry Gose (Wokingham) 5%

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.

Siren says: “We drew Surly Brewing in this year’s International Rainbow Project with the colour assigned to us being blue. In the spirit of the transatlantic collaboration we’ve linked the two breweries by sea and sky; our British Isles surrounded by water and Minnesota admired for its skyscapes. Seaweed provides the ocean air and salty gose depth while cloudberries represent the skies above.”

We say: We reckon the Rainbow Project - created by former Siren head brewer Ryan Witter-Merithew - is just about the most exciting event on the UK brewing calendar. If you get the chance to make it to one of the launch day venues, such as Beavertown in London or Magic Rock up north, take it - it’s a great day out with great people and, most importantly, amazing beers. For the 2016 Project, seven UK breweries have been matched with seven New Zealand breweries, something we’re naturally looking forward to very much. But we digress…

We usually have at least 10 different beers from Siren as they make great beer and love pushing the boundaries - like Pokemon, we gotta drink them all. The beer you’re opening tonight is this year’s effort from Siren and Surly in the US, and it might just split opinion. Some will love its salty tartness (we do), others may need more persuading, and for some it might even be the first sour they’ve had. Never say we don't like to keep things interesting here at HB&B...

New stuff in store: 3 September

                                                Image c/o

                                                Image c/o

Firstly, sorry about our ongoing refrigeration issues, which have seen our London fridge out of action for the best part of a week. As we type, an engineer has been sipping coffee in our courtyard for two hours, waiting for the vital part to turn up. Turns out, it was never sent. The nightmare continues...

However a broken fridge hasn't stopped you drinking ALL THE BEERS apparently. We've done a huge restock of all your favourites, with a can section that is stronger than ever with 50 different beers, and about to get even bigger this weekend. Why?

#MOORCANDEMONIUM. We couldn't be more excited to host the two Justins from Moor Beer this Saturday 5th September to launch the new Moor can range. Justin and the Moor team have spent a lot of time, money and effort building their advanced new canning operation to ensure their beer is the best it can possibly be. You'll be able to judge for yourself on Saturday - we'll have all eight Moor cans available, including all-time favourites Hoppiness, So Hop, Nor Hop and Revival. Don't miss it!

Other new arrivals of note:

  • Mama's Little Yella Pils from Oskar Blues 
  • Dippy & The Equinox, Siren's 'brutally hopped' collaboration with Boneyard
  • Yakima Valley IPA - another glorious beer from our new favourite brewery Arbor Ales (we've re-upped on the phenomenally popular Why Kick A Moo Cow and Oz Bomb too) 
  • Wylam Brewery makes its debut on flagon-fill with Jakehead IPA, voted #1 in the Britain's Hottest 100 Beers competition. We've never received so many requests for fills - be super, super-quick to get in on this one before it runs out...