Friday, 10 February 2012

The Bull and Goose Island

Last week I was invited by the new marketing director at Sambrook's, Jo Miller, to attend a beer and food pairing event at The Bull in Highgate hosted by Goose Island Brewery. The dinner was a pairing of seven beers and seven dishes and, before I get into the details, it was a fantastic night.

I had been meaning to head up to the Bull for quite some time. It is run by Jo's boyfriend Dan Fox who used to be the manager of the famous White Horse pub in Parsons Green (also a very nice place).

Overall, I was very impressed with the beers from Goose Island and the people they brought along for the dinner. I even had the pleasure of talking directly with the founder of Goose Island, John Hall, for about five or ten minutes. Each beer and food pairing was accompanied by a short speech by a representative of Goose Island, so the customers knew exactly what they were drinking and eating. One aspect of the night that particularly surprised me was the quality of the sour ales. Up until that night I had stubbornly avoided sour ales after a few bad experiences with them back in the States. I had the opportunity to try several, but the sour ale that stuck out to me the most was Sofie. The sourness imparted by the wild yeast from the wine barrels it was aged in was balanced with a dry, crisp, refreshing finish. This was not the bombshell of sour ales like the ones that turned me off to the style back home. It was very enjoyable to drink, and I was thoroughly impressed.

The second beer I would like to highlight is the Bourbon County Stout. Of course, it is almost obligatory to talk about this beer when you have the chance to try it. It is, more or less, considered the pinnacle of the beers produced by Goose Island. I can't be sure of which vintage it was that we tried, but I would assume that it was the 2010 or 2011 vintage because the beer seemed a bit young to me. There was some harshness to the roasted flavors in the beer that would probably mellow and be better balanced with the vanillin flavors from the bourbon barrels given time. I also found the beer to be somewhat hot, but this is easily explained by the fact that the beer is upwards of 14% ABV. Despite what I just said, I actually enjoyed it and can certainly respect the effort that goes into making such a beer. It was just a bit on the extreme edge to completely agree with my palate.

After the dinner, many of us stayed behind to have a few more pints. It was at this point that I had the opportunity of trying some of the exciting craft cask ales Dan had on offer. I had tried dozens of micro-brewed cask ales, most of which are lovely, but few (with the exception of the Dark Star beers) that I found truly reminiscent of the craft brewing seen in the United States. Here were beers that were hopped like American ales and delivered with the same spark of creativity that drew me to brewing in the first place. Furthermore, I was at a venue that was hosting many people that are at the centre of the London beer scene. I was able to talk to brewers, beer writers and publicans, all of whom shared the same passion for beer that I have. It seems to me that what I am experiencing in London is the same type of vitalisation of beer that happened in the States in the late 80's and early 90's and I cannot be more excited to be a part of it.


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