Friday, 24 July 2015

Beer, Food & Travel: The Green Room at Sage, Midleton, Cork - Just Desserts


Travelling as a family we can be a little indecisive when it comes to trying to decide on what to see or where to eat. This often means we end up, out of frustration, somewhere that outwardly half appeals to everyone but in actual fact pleases no one.

So I decided our trip to Midleton was going to be different. Like when I travel abroad, I would do some research and commit a couple of eating places to memory that I felt should please everyone. From Tweeting and Googling it was clear that there were only a few places that would keep my need for a nice drink and my other half's, and our two quarter's (I was always poor at maths...), need for sustenance satisfied.

That is how I ended up one mid-afternoon, with my family in tow, staring down an alley on Midleton's unimaginatively named Main Street wondering if I had made the right choice. We weren't hungry as such but craved something sweetish with a cool drink, and from my list The Green Room had seemed the obvious choice. The discrete-ish signs on the alley wall means that you might miss this place if you didn't know it existed, but the smell of cooking food wafting towards us on the breeze tugged our noses down to the entrance.


The Green Room is the little sister - or perhaps estranged cousin - of Sage Restaurant and is a cosy but classy restaurant bar bistro café ... I'm not sure what label suits it to be honest so let's just call it an eat'n'drinkery for now. There's bench seating and a slightly rustic feel to the outside area, while inside is more formal with comfortable seating and a more intimate feel.

We were a little worried about appearing here with the smaller ones in tow, as there was no mention of anything for kids on any menu. But we weren't shooed out and after taking our seats the waiter ran through our options for something sweet, once we let him know we weren't here for supper, which strangely starts at 4.30 pm!


I went for the 'famous' baked cheesecake and herself ordered the lemon tart, with two bowls of ice cream that had to be procured from Sage next door for the smaller creatures. They also got an apple juice and an orange juice, while herself went for a 'nice cup of tea'. I mulled over the beers on offer - all bottles, all Irish - and decided that Black's KPA, from nearby-ish Kinsalemight be a good choice with the cheesecake.


My cheesecake arrived, baked with white chocolate and raspberries on a thin biscuit base, served with a dollop of stiff cream. It was light and way too easy to eat, with the zing of raspberry cutting through the firm sweet-cheese filling. The citrusy pale ale worked brilliantly to flush the palate and contrasted with the moderate sweetness of the cheesecake. This was one of my most inspired combinations and just a lucky guess if I'm being honest.


Herself's lemon, elderflower and raspberry tart was tasty too, living up to its tart name in more ways than one. The layer of raspberries on top lifting it above ordinary, while making it look pretty and appealing too.

The bowls of ice cream were demolished quickly and quietly, with a minimum of messing and stickiness, as we were quite conscious of our surroundings. Then refreshed and satisfied we paid the moderate bill and headed back to the busy main street of the town, with sprung steps all around.

Great service and nice surroundings are easy enough to find but the two additions of good food and good beer means that The Green Room ticks four boxes for me. Perhaps the only change I would make is a nod to families by making a mention of kids food on the menu somewhere ... that's providing children are welcome of course, as I get the feeling it's not really that kind of place.

Although ours had no complaints!

Visited Tuesday 7th July 2015


Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Beer: McGargles Uncle Jim & Cousin Rosie - Family Matters


I'm aware that I'm (possibly) not the best judge of beer in the world - and I know that's a shock to some of you - but I get quite annoyed by people who knock beers for ridiculous reasons. Their main issue seems to be that they just don't like a particular beer, either because its taste doesn't appeal to them, its not radical enough or because it wasn't what they thought it was - it wasn't 'to style'. Some tend to jump on the band wagon of hating a company, or beer, because others do - beer peer pressure of the worst kind - and then they post their opinions on social media with no reasons for their comments. How helpful is that?

Not liking a beer isn't the same as having a 'bad' beer.

(And yes of course there are a few badly made beers out there or you can be unlucky and get an infected beer but a that's different issue and not very common in my opinion.)

There's also another related issue ... and that's that many drinkers assume that craft beer needs to be more extreme than macro beers. But why should that be? Can it not taste much the same as a macro version and still appeal to certain consumers such as those who want, say, a locally produced product for example? After all, with most of the beer drinking population drinking macro beer then perhaps the unique selling point should be based on something other than stronger taste, as radical as that might sound!

I don't expect you to agree with me - I imagine you won't - but sometimes a beer just needs to be a beer.

It's something I often forget myself.

___

The McGargles range by Rye River Brewing in Kildare has never really appealed to me (although some of their other beers have!), but not for any one good reason. The fact that their beers come in 4 packs annoyed the beer ticker in me and their choice of marketing style offended my eyes, seeming to pander to that mock 'Oirish' look so favoured by plastic paddies across the water. (Perhaps I was subliminally paying attention to other's comments too much too?) Not the best reasons to avoid a beer range I admit ...

But recently I came across a couple of stray McGargles that had escaped from the rest of their family. So the opportunity presented itself for me to pick up a couple of the beers that I had been curious - but not that curious - about.

Jim was loitering behind a couple of Polish lagers and a Belgian dubbel in my local off licence when I found him. He looked kind of shifty after escaping from his mixed four pack, the rest of his family having succumbed to the wet-carton-drop or the slippery-hand-fail I presume. Anyhow I felt a little sorry for him, with his dishevelled looks and scratched cap and took him home.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this stout, apart from the fact that it would be, er, stout-like, so with an open mind I opened him up and poured him out.


Uncle Jim's Stout has a pretty light body with a flavour of weak cola and a hint of treacle, with just a touch of burnt toast. And those comments are not meant in a disparaging way, it is quite a pleasant stout, and as it warmed up and my palate adjusted, it became a little less like burnt toast and a little more dark chocolatey, but the body was still a little light for me. I'm not sure if it is available on nitro or on cask(!) but I think either way might suit my palate more, by giving it more of a perceived creamy taste. There's certainly nothing wrong with it and it would be an ideal stout for anyone who wanted to move into craft beer from macro, and one that I would recommend to my stout drinking friends.


Poor Rosie was another castaway, set drift in a sea of Mexican lagers and alcopops in the bargain basket in my local supermarket. Jetsam from a stray pack again or perhaps just discarded in error. Either way I picked her up, paid for her with the rest of my shopping, half hidden under a sliced pan like a dirty magazine. My embarrassment compounded when the lady on the till had to get a price check on Rosie. Shrouded in shame I skulked home with Rosie under wraps.


Cousin Rosie's Pale Ale smelled great for starters, citrus and a hint of mint hit my nose as I took my first taste, which proceeded to back up the pleasant aroma. This was a nice pale ale, very like the annoyingly named session IPAs that have started to hit the shelves recently. Like Uncle Jim, the body was a tad light but not watery by any means. Again it changed as it warmed up, with some toffee and not-so-ripe mandarins coming through. This too is a pleasant drink and another that I would recommended to those starting on to the craft beer route, and even some who are already down the road a little, or even a lot!

Perhaps I will try that assorted 4 pack after all. I hope the rest of the family are as pleasant!

Anyhow, I'll certainly keep an eye out for more of the clan.

____

There's a perception by those in the press, and perpetuated by many on social media streams, that so-called craft beer is all about strong flavours and high alcohol. And that it's just drank by those who want to be seen drinking it or who want to look or act differently to everyone else.

This is (mostly) not the case.

It's drank by those who like its taste or simply want something local or traceable. Whether it's straightforward, no-nonsense(!) simple beers like the two mentioned above or more complex imperial stouts, trippels or sour-whatevers isn't important.

Taste, needs and choice are important ... not begrudgery, hearsay and rhetoric.

(OK. Rant over, normal service will resume shortly.)



Sunday, 12 July 2015

Food : Tandoori Chicken ... with Extra 'Saisoning'

Tandoori
      adjective: tan·doori \tän-ˈdu̇r-ē\
of or relating to an Indian method of cooking meat over charcoal in a clay oven
Miriam-Webster


I have to admit to not being the best at planning weekday meals. The early part of the week involves using up or recycling leftovers from the weekend and I tend to wing it for the rest of the week, depending on what's in the fridge, freezer or cupboard and what's on special in my local butcher.

So having acquired some chicken legs - no jokes please - and tempted with the thoughts of a barbecue, I was looking in the fridge and spied a half a tub of natural yogurt. Perfect, I thought, I'll do Tandoori Chicken, and in the absence of a tandoor oven I'd use the barbecue.

So I pulled all the ingredients together - most are staples in our house anyway - until I hit upon a problem. Normally I put lemon in the marinade mix but I was all out and didn't really feel like traipsing off to the shops for some.

But sitting in the fridge was a bottle of my saison homebrewed beer, and so an idea formed...

The lemon normally gives a nice fresh zip to the marinade so maybe my hoppy saison could do the same job?

There was only one way to find out!


The Ingredients:

4 Chicken Legs - Skinned and Scored
250ml Natural Yogurt
3cm of Ginger Root - Finely Grated
1 Garlic Clove - Finely Grated
1 tablespoon of Tandoori Masala (spice mix) - I use the East End brand but you could make your own
1 teaspoon of Garam Masala (spice mix)
teaspoon of Ground Coriander
teaspoon of Turmeric
1/2 teaspoon of Salt
teaspoon Brown Sugar
100ml Saison Style Beer - preferably a hoppy version!
A Good Dash of Rapeseed Oil, or Any Cooking Oil.


The Method:

It's easy-peasy!

Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning to suit your palate, some people like more ginger or garlic, or you could add a little chilli powder if you want more of a kick!

Put the prepared chicken in a container and pour the mix over, rubbing it in with your hands. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours, shaking occasionally. (Remember to use common sense when handling raw chicken and to clean as you go!)

Preheat the barbecue and cook for 30 mins or more with medium indirect heat until chicken is cooked thoroughly, before transferring carefully to direct heat to get a little charring on the chuck, watching carefully to ensure it doesn't burn. Try not to disturb the marinade on the chicken!

(You can use an oven and grill to achieve a similar result too.)

Remove from the heat and let the chicken rest for I5 minutes under tinfoil before serving.

I normally sprinkle the chicken with chopped fresh coriander but that was another ingredient I ran out of!



So How did it turn out? It was great - really juicy and moist with that lovely tandoori colour and taste.

Did the saison make any difference? It's hard to say but it certainly gave a similar quality to the marinade, as I didn't miss the lemon. I thought it gave another dimension or depth but that might have been wishful thinking.

By the way, the saison itself was a great accompaniment to the chicken.

As usual, enjoy and feel free to tinker with the recipe.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Beer, Food & Travel: Kilkenny Craft Beer Festival 2015


A beer festival in Kilkenny is hardly a new idea. After all, the original Kilkenny Beer Festival that ran from 1964 to 1974 was one of the most popular events in the country attracting as many as 200,000 people. In fact it was so popular that it became a victim of it's own success and the management of that many people, and their behaviour, allegedly led to its demise. It wasn't just about beer - although it had an Oktoberfest-style big tent, a German Oompah band and even German folk dancing - it had loads of other fringe events too such as ballad competitions, smoking contests, horse racing and, er, a doll conference. Did I mention the international cat show? No? Well there was a cat show too. (Appropriate really...)

It could be argued that this festival set Kilkenny up for the arts festivals and comedy festivals that followed, as there were a lot of B&Bs to be filled in the aftermath of its demise, and the restaurants and bars were used to dealing with an large influx of people. And these events preceded Kilkenny becoming the tourist Mecca it is today.

In the last year or so there have been a couple of new mini beer festivals too. O'Hara's ran one in Brewery Corner last year and also organised a tent in Savour last September, and as High Street and The Parade weren't knee deep in drunks and vomit slicks it was presumably deemed a success by those with long memories and short sight.

So perhaps those events paved the way for this one, and let's not forget that Kilkenny has a pretty rich brewing history and heritage too. For whatever reasons, it's certainly appropriate that it has a beer festival again.

This year's Kilkenny Craft Beer Festival was organised by Costellos Brewing in conjunction with the host bar, Billy Byrnes on John Street, a bar I really liked when I last visited it at the Beoir AGM last year. The fact that the double decker of food heaven that is The Bula Bus is parked at the back of the bar was also a major factor in deciding to go to the festival. Not that I need much persuading when there's one just down the road.

So here I was on the train with Nige, another train and another trip. There was the usual mix of travellers getting on in Carlow including one particularly nosy biddy who asked a million questions before telling everyone her life's story. Luckily we had avoided her sitting next us but a poor man with a hat and a walking cane festooned with travel badges wasn't so lucky. She asked him his life's story before in turn boring him with her's.

He got out in Kilkenny with us even though I'm pretty sure he was planning to go to Waterford...


We were meeting another friend of ours, Pablo, in the bar itself and sure enough when we arrived he was waiting for us. We paid our entrance fee, collected our wristbands, tokens and a cool pint-shaped-half-pint glasses (Yes, actual glass not plastic) emblazoned with 'Kilkenny Craft Beer Festival' in bold red writing, and proceeded towards the back of the bar where the festival was to be held. I'm pretty sure that the place had gone through some renovation in the past year, as the front bar appeared newer and the counter itself moved. The back area had changed a little too but still remained a complete contrast to the front. While the front was cool, modern and classy, the back was shabby-chic meets, er, a modern opium den. Old couches, mirrors and defunct electric fireplaces were used to great effect, with whitewashed pallets forming more seating. The big, fat Bula Bus was parked out the back, behind picnic benches and other mismatched furniture, forming an impressive back drop to the area. Sheaves of barley had been placed on the tables and there was a gentle buzz about the place, like a low vocal murmur running under the chill-out music that was playing.

I relaxed into festival mode immediately and with a nod to Gerald from Costellos who was sorting out a few minor glitches I went looking for a beer. Priorities are important after all...

There was a bar set up to my right and behind it a wall of beers - well eight beers and one cider to be exact, there was supposed to be ten but there was one no-show so there was a forlorn hole at one end of the wall. The beer ticker in me was a little disappointed at first at 'only' having 9 choices but I soon rallied as I realised that I hadn't had five of them.

So first up for me was Trouble Brewing Remix, a 4.9% India Pale Lager. I took my glass down to the wooden pallet seating and only then noticed a homebrew set-up and demo behind me emblazoned with a 3 Sisters Brewing Company posters, I made a mental note to check them out. (But forgot soon after!) I also noticed that there was a glass washing station near the bar, which was a good touch, although there was no drinking water that I could see. (Maybe this was drinking water too?) I usually come prepared with my bottle of carbonated water so this was no real issue for me. My eyes wandered back to my beer, I like these type of beer glasses as they fool the mind into thinking you're drinking a pint without the actual volume that that entails. Trouble's beer was refreshing and dry with a tropical fruit medley bite, and left a lingering taste of custard cream biscuits. A good start to the day!


Totally relaxed, the conversation wandered to Jiu Jitsu, Bruce Lee and Yip Man, topics I had no real interest in but the other two conversed across me as I chilled out, and I greedily gulped my beer a little too quickly so soon I was anxious to try another.

Radikale Dubbel was whispering to me from the tap so I chose it next - and an excellent choice it was too! It's a 7% abv full-bodied beer with a sourish barley sugar flavour and a pleasant metallic taste. I slowed down my drinking and got more involved in the conversation this time, as this was a sipping beer. We relaxed a little more and had a nice discussion about beer in general, our surroundings and other beer festivals in particular, as we tried to persuade Pablo - a beer festival neophyte - to come to more with us.

Gerald called over to us to see how we were doing and he asked if we would be interested in a meet-the-brewer style discussion with himself, Paul from Trouble, Conor from O'Hara's and Mathis from Wicklow Brewery - plus a few other non-brewers. We jumped at the chance and plonked ourselves down in the middle of the group, feeling only marginally like interlopers.

We had a great time, with sample beers from each brewery when each brewer spoke, we got an insight into how a brewer's mind works, and how and why they brew. I found out that Bennetsbridge in Kilkenny was the last place that grew hops commercially in Ireland; I heard the story of how Mathis had come over from Germany and why he did; we debated the need for foreign beer influences and supply; how hard it is to get a tap into bars; plus a multitude of other pieces of information. I could have talked and listened for hours, and indeed myself and Nige might have hogged the conversation a little too much to be honest.


The beer samples were generous and appreciated, plus I got to try Costellos red ale again. I had tried it at the Beoir AGM but not since, at the time I had struggled to get the style even though perhaps it should have been obvious that it would be an Irish red. It seemed different this time around, more malt forward maybe and more body considering it's only a 3.8% beer, with a tiny touch of ginger. Gerald mentioned that he had tweaked it over the last year and was very happy - understandably - with this final version, I certainly enjoyed my sample anyway! He also told us he would be moving to a premises in Kilkenny city soon and that he also would be bottling in the very near future. There was a moment of levity too when Trouble told us they were going to brew an Irish Red soon, which elicited and sharp look in Paul's direction from Gerald...

Next we got a sample of O'Hara's Sorachi Ace, which I had already tried a few weeks back, and it was still as good as I remembered.

Our last beer in the talk was the Wicklow Brewing Weiss, which is normally not a style I am overly fond of, but it was certainly fine and light, with a little barnyard-like funk with banana on top. I could have swore I got a smoky flavour too but, Mathis assured me that they hadn't used any so it was obviously just that the mind was telling me that I was hungry and that I needed to eat!

So we thanked the brewers and headed off in search of nourishment of the non liquid kind. The clever people in The Bula Bus had cooked all of their food with the beers that were on offer here and some of them looked like inspired combinations.


(I nabbed this from their Facebook page but I don't think they'll mind, it saved me a lot of typing.)

I was debating what to have and considering the pork belly burger when I spotted a wood burning pizza oven at the side of the bus and made a bee-line in that direction instead.


The menu looked appealing and as I was going for a palate cleansing Highbank Cider next, the flammkuchen was the obvious choice.

I placed my order and we sat down with Alain from Radikale, as I wanted to compliment him in person on his Dubbel. We chatted about various topics, the beer scene in Cork, US west coast breweries and a multitude of other subjects. Soon my flammkuchen was ready and I got stuck in. It was really good, a great base to start with, with the tangy, sweet red onion and the sour cream contrasting perfectly. My only minor gripe was that the bacon was a little scarce but that's probably just the greedy pig in me coming out. Paired with the wonderful Highbank Proper Cider it was even more excellent - the cider tasting like tart Granny Smiths, so refreshing, dry and basically superb. It reminded me of some great ciders I had enjoyed in Somerset in England a few years ago.

After that we said goodbye to Alain, and Nige and I headed to Brewery Corner for a 'break', while Pablo stayed to listen to a band that were just starting up.
___
Later on, we arrived back to the festival to see a table being laid for a beer pairing dinner. We would have loved to stay for this but time and Irish Rail ( Why the hell are there no late trains anywhere in this country?!) wait for no man so our minutes were limited. A TV company were filming the event so I spent most of my time avoiding the camera and the rest drinking beer, as I needed to try another new one to me.

Four Provinces The Hurler is a 4.2% red ale that reminded me of red lemonade from childhood summers when the sun was shining just right, add in a couple of malted milk biscuits and that was this beer to a tee. A great tasty finish to our day...

... except it wasn't.

With a close eye on the time and another eye on the hipsteresque maître d' who was serving/embarrassing those seated for the dinner - It was a performance as well as a meal! - I decided to finish my day with an O'Hara's Sorachi Ace IPA, to toast the festival. (Apologies to 12 Acres, which is my standard tipple in Tully's Bar back in Carlow so I didn't have it here, and to Dungarvan - I forgot about you!)


We thanked Gerald, said our goodbyes and wobbled our way to the station and the 7pm train home, with just enough time to get a sensible coffee in the station. I was beginning to get hungry again but I was secure in the knowledge that a pork red curry awaited me at home, which would be a great end to a great day. Now, what beer to have with it though...



So, My thoughts on the festival?

I really enjoyed it and it's a great addition to the already festival-laden city of Kilkenny. It was well managed, with plenty of food choice and fun, in an intimate and unique setting with a great atmosphere. Proper glassware and good music definitely helped too.

Would I change anything?

Not a lot, the beer ticker in me would like to see more choice in the beer range I think. No stouts for example seemed strange to me... so maybe 20 beers next year?

Will I be back next year?

Yes, definitely - and that's the best indicator really. Isn't it?


Oh, and lastly ... maybe they should revive that cat show...

27th June 2015