Food (scran) and beer (a scoop) are two of life's greatest pleasures and together they're greater than the sum of their parts. This series of blogs charts my adventures in beer and food matching.
This episode sees pork tacos matched with Dale's Pale Ale from Colorado brewery Oskar Blues.
Tacos are a Friday night favourite in my household.
Bizarrely straddling the line between disgustingly indulgent and reassuringly healthy, they simultaneously satisfy the craving for stodge while soothing any anxiety induced by the healthy conscience.
In my mind, at least, the junk food connection stems from shameful trips to Taco Bell while on holiday in the States but homemade tacos don't have to heap on the calories. Throw lettuce, tomato, avocado, onion and coriander on top of your meat and that's your five-a-day taken care of.
On a more serious note, tacos aren't simply disposable fast food and it's this versatility that makes them the perfect partner for beer, fitting a variety of flavour pairings.
Different tacos call for different styles. Fish might work well with a delicate, yet fragrant saison, while spicy beef can easily find a friend in smoked porter. Pork, on the other hand, tends to need a hop-forward pale ale to cut through the higher fat content of the meat and offer a neat counterpoint to any spice additions.
Bearing that in mind, a can of Dale's Pale Ale is a fitting bedfellow for this Jamie Oliver recipe. It's a clean, refreshing APA that combines sweetness and body with bright, crisp citrus and an arid finish - making it a particularly good match for the recipe, which is a favourite of mine thanks to the extra zing added by apple and lime. The spicy black beans too add an extra dimension, creating complimentary layers of texture and flavour - crunch and creaminess, spice and spritz.
Initially, caramel and tangerine notes from the beer compliment the apple and citric lime in the salad, melding to create a juicy tang in the mouth. This stabs straight through the heavy presence of the spicy black beans, clearing a path for tingling, resinous pine to briefly accentuate the smoked paprika, cumin and fennel from the tacos.
But all of those flavours are quickly swept to the side by pithy orange and grapefruit, leaving nothing but a light, zesty bitterness and cleaning the palate in preparation for the next mouthful.
Dale's Pale Ale works so well because it's robust enough to hold its own against the more powerful flavours, yet delicate enough that it doesn't obliterate the fresh piquancy of the salad. A dry finish is essential with a dish of this type too or else heavy flavours will refuse to budge and you'll soon feel like you've reached capacity.
Another experiment with a very different beer also provided interesting results, if not a perfect match. Beavertown's Holy Cowbell is an india stout/black IPA/heavily-hopped porter/insert your own style label here, equal parts bold hop character and strong, dark malts.
The early signs are promising, earthy cocoa beans embracing the smoky paprika in a satisfying slow dance across the palate but, unfortunately, bitter dark chocolate and charcoal tend to obscure the other flavours.
A dash of tart blackcurrant does mingle happily with the apple, coriander and lime, however, and a bone dry finish loaded with orange zest does an admirable job of cleansing the palate. It's just a shame those roasted malt flavours jar a little too much.
For the time being, I'll stick with the Dale's.
Port Brewing Older Viscosity, 12% ABV
Bottle from Beers of Europe
This is the equivalent of a generous shot of single malt - to be served with a fine Cuban cigar in front of a roaring fire, sat in a huge leather Chesterfield.
It's the kind of drink to be sipped and savoured over the course of an evening, eventually inducing a kind of warm paralysis that renders you useless yet deliriously relaxed.
When drinking this kind of beer, you can't help but wonder how so much complexity and depth of flavour can be squeezed from essentially four ingredients.
But then, that's probably Port Brewing Co's forte. The Californian brewery, which essentially evolved from the Pizza Port brewpub chain, is renowned for its bold and imaginative beer, particularly through its Belgian-inspired spin-off Lost Abbey.
Prior to popping the cork on this beauty, I had only been able to get my hands on their Lost Abbey creations, their Brett-spiked Saint's Devotion being a particularly memorable treat.
Port treads a more typically craft path, boasting a number of hop-forward IPAs, a few German-inspired efforts and a couple of imperial stouts but that doesn't make their efforts any less impressive.
Well, particularly on this evidence. Older Viscosity is a bourbon barrel-aged beast that ticks all the right boxes.
The aroma is heavy and intoxicating, coating the nostrils with rich fruitcake smothered in brandy, treacle pudding, vanilla and sweet milk chocolate heated until it has collapsed into a delicious ooze. A bourbon burn comes through at the tail end, oak and alcohol singing the nose hairs.
Unsurprisingly, it's thick, sticky and viscous in the mouth, yet oily enough to smooth its passage across the tongue, aided by a soft, smooth carbonation.
Instant thoughts upon the first sip are of chocolate fudge cake, punctuated by intermittent twangs of bitter black coffee.
Chocolate evolves into moist fruit cake, stuffed full of dried cherries and raisins, sweetened by a dash of vanilla essence.
The flavours begin to sharpen as a chalky cocoa bitterness arrives and the burn of bourbon and oak heats the throat, while a numbing Szechuan pepper buzz lingers in the aftertaste.
Stubborn espresso also sticks around, mixing with molasses and demerara sugar to create a bittersweet finale.
For an hour, I felt every bit the refined gent. The kind of chap who dresses entirely in tweed and enjoys the finer things in life. That bloke who doesn't have a care in the world, bar the contents of his snifter.
Then I finished the last swig of Older Viscosity and realised I was just a half-cut Manc, albeit one who was at peace with the world.
Sierra Nevada Hoptimum
Bottle from Beermoth, Manchester, 10.4% ABV
Is this what happens when you make the hops angry?
They can be pretty feisty buggers at the best of times but they really seem to have one on them here.
Not satisfied with taking a starring role in almost every American IPA of the past 20 years, they have now declared all-out war on the tastebuds, mobilising each division to pound at the palate with furious force.
Even the beer's commercial description is worded as if it were a taunt: "A group of hop-heads and publicans challenged our Beer Camp (#19) brewers to push the extremes of whole-cone hop brewing."
You wouldn't have been at all surprised if they'd continued: so we at Sierra Nevada thought 'right, we'll show those bastards' and pistol-whipped them with the heaviest of our heavy artillery.
Bittered with whole-cone Magnum, it uses heaps more whole-cone Simcoe and a new proprietary strain for aroma and dry-hopping.
As if that wasn't enough, it's then torpedoed through whole-cone Citra and Chinook. Basically a combination of some of the biggest, baddest varieties you can find.
Hardly a surprise, then, that it smells absolutely bloody amazing. It's one of those that leaps out at you the second you pop the cap, huge resinous hop aromas instantly filling the air.
To call the aroma floral wouldn't really do it justice. It's a heady mix of pungent perfumed notes, with rose, jasmine, cedar and pine mingling to form a thick cloud that hangs in the air. There's some lychee present too and a generous glob of sticky toffee malt adds richness and depth.
It pours an attractive clear golden brown, with a small white head that leaves cobwebs of lacing down the glass.
Having been given ample warning by the aroma, nothing in the taste comes as a surprise but it's big... as big as that weird 80s film starring Tom Hanks.
A robust sweetness of caramel and honey coats the tongue, putting in the groundwork for the hops to start their assault.
Powerful pine begins pounding away, soon joined by rose, lilac and fruitier notes of orange zest and light grapefruit, with a squeeze of lime coming through at the end.
The finish is intensely bitter, befitting something that packs a powerful 100 IBU, but is held well by the heavy malt and accompanied by a reassuring warmth from the alcohol.
A mouth-numbing stickiness lasts in the mouth long after the bottle was finished but, surprisingly, my tastebuds survived intact.
Anchor Christmas Ale 2013
Ilkley Mary Christmas
Like delving in the January bargain bins for cheap Christmas tat, here's a late round-up of two leftover festive ales.
It was a story of one I expected to like, one I didn't and two that confounded initial expectations.
I've explained elsewhere on this blog that I'm not a fan of Christmas beers. In fact, I think they're generally shite.
There's just something about throwing a load of spices into one of the standard range and giving it a 'funny' festive name that doesn't sit right with me.
So Ilkley's Mary Christmas didn't seem to stand a chance - the name being a play on best-selling pale ale Mary Jane.
Anchor's Christmas Ale, on the other hand, is marked by restrained branding and a proud history, having been produced as a seasonal special for the past 39 years.
Each year, the recipe changes, so you never know what you're getting. This year, I'd rather have maintained that sense of mystery.
It poured dark brown, verging on black, with a reddish mahogany tint running through it and a big, off-white head that left gentle lacing around the glass.
Strong aromas weren't immediately present but after sticking my nose into the glass, I knew I was in for a slightly odd experience.
It mixes a dizzying number of aromas and flavours, not all of which are entirely pleasant and not all of which you'd necessarily put together.
The nose is overwhelmingly sweet and herbal, like what you'd expect from tipping all the green-topped jars from the spice rack over a pot of brandy-soaked raisins and cherries.
Strangely, I also picked up a clear scent of bubblegum, which yielded to a late waft of coca-cola punctuated by a smidgeon of chalky chocolate and cinnamon.
Upon taking my first mouthful, all I could think was 'sarsaparilla'. Now, if you've ever been to one of those Victorian recreation museums or an East End pie and mash shop (both are a window into a past time, after all), you might know what I mean.
There's a reason sarsaparilla's popularity didn't endure much past the 19th century and that's because nobody wants to drink a soft drink that tastes like a sickly sweet mix of liquorice, herbs and cough syrup.
There was simply no recovering from this bad start. The sarsaparilla morphed into root beer and cola with a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg but none of these flavours could calm my angry tastebuds.
The heavy sweetness faded but failed to mellow, instead swinging to the opposite extreme and producing an unpleasantly astringent finish dotted with black pepper.
Light notes of dried cherry and blueberry emerged late on but, by that time, it was far too late. I can only hope the 2014 version represents a return to form.
Mary Christmas, on the other hand, proved to be something of a dark horse.
Few beers genuinely surprise me these days, so it was great to be caught off-guard by something that shattered all preconceptions and allowed me to taste with a completely clear mind.
Pouring a dazzlingly clear, golden amber with a short-lived foamy head, it quickly fills the air with a strong blend of Christmas smells.
Cinnamon buns, brandy butter, demerara sugar, nutmeg and ginger snaps - it's like a list of favourite things from the Sound of Music.
Despite these heavy, often overpowering flavours, the beer is fairly light in body but it actually works as a benefit in this instance, ensuring it slips down easily rather than sticking in the throat.
Refreshing lemon and crisp grass come as a pleasant surprise, cleaning the palate for the arrival of nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger biscuits. Rum and raisin joins the party fashionably late, sticking around throughout a dry, bittersweet finish.
I knew my mum was right when she told me I should never judge a book by its cover.
The Lost Abbey Saint's Devotion
Bottle, 6.66% ABV
A Brett-finished version of Lost Abbey's Devotion Ale you say? Well, don't mind if I do.
Both mind and body are still a little fragile from a night of celebration at the Font, Chorlton to toast my engagement but this still went down very nicely indeed.
Like most Lost Abbey beers, it's quirky and full of character, paying fitting homage to a traditional Belgian style. And, as a huge fan of Orval, it seems particularly ideal, delivering hops, malt and a good hit of funky Brett.
The cork comes loose with the satisfying pop of a champagne bottle and the beer pours a beautiful cloudy, golden orange with a huge, frothy white head. The loose foam gradually dissipates but leaves huge chunks of lacing all down the glass as it goes.
The first sniff leaves you in no doubt that the Brett has done its job. Its mucky fingerprints are all over the aroma.
Sour cherries and fresh orange lead the way but are closely followed by earthy spice, soggy oak, leather and farmyard hay. Clove notes also throb strongly in the background and the odd waft of banana occasionally creeps through.
In the taste, sharp citrus initially washes a pleasant freshness over the palate, orange and faint lemon making for a sweet start, sat neatly on top of a savoury cracker provided by the malt.
Citrus soon morphs into sour berries and cherry pie before the Brett really starts to take hold. There's as much funk as a George Clinton bassline, a medley of spice and a clove heat that grows slowly as the beer works its way through the mouth.
The finish is drier than a speech from David Cameron, stripping any moisture from the mouth and leaving a dull earthiness in its place.
Despite its complex nature and Brett's acquired taste, it remains incredibly drinkable. It's heavily, yet perfectly, carbonated, lightly tart rather than sour, with only a light touch of bitterness in the finish.
I only wish I could get hold of it more often.
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout (2012)
Bottle, 15% ABV
I've been waiting a long time for this one. Too long.
Bourbon County is one of those beers that should be on every beer geek's bucket list - a brilliant, balls-out brute with the reputation to match. It just has to be done, regardless of any concerns about the brewery and its ownership.
So Christmas Day seemed to offer the perfect opportunity to finally face the beast. After all, this isn't an everyday beer.
Well, that wasn't my only reason for opening this on Christmas Day. Initially I had been tempted to join many others in reviewing Magic Rock's Strongman until Nate Dawg appealed to my rebellious side by suggesting the establishment of a Bourbon County splinter group.
There was a slight worry that a bottle of Péché Mortel enjoyed the previous day might rain on this particular parade. That imperial stout from Canadian brewers Dieu du Ciel was so good it seemed, at the time, that nothing else could ever measure up.
Fortunately, any worry of that sort proved to be completely unfounded.
Bourbon County will not be put in the shade by any of its contemporaries and still represents possibly the standard for barrel-aged stouts.
It's ridiculously bold and brassy, an affront on the senses that is both overwhelming and exhilarating.
It pours a deep, oily black and the small, muddy brown head that initially sits atop gives it a sinister appearance. It looks like an evil potion straight from the pages of Macbeth and it's clear from the start there will be no messing around.
The first sniff reveals unbelievably rich dark chocolate, a handful of fresh coffee beans, a dash of vanilla essence and a late onset of oak and bourbon.
In the mouth, there's even more to savour. This is a proper imperial stout - a huge palate-wrecker that's dense, sweet and amazingly indulgent, causing a treacly residue to settle in every part of the mouth, as if it's being marinaded in a thick, beery, bourbon gravy.
Chocolate, demerara sugar and vanilla launch a hostile takeover on the front of the tongue and have things entirely their own way until a touch of spicy hop is allowed to creep in and further complexity reveals itself.
The heat is continually cranked up by booze-soaked raisins and molasses before the bourbon properly kicks in, contributing heavy oak and a reassuring warmth that engulfs the throat and hangs in the chest.
Despite the massive malt profile, the finish is dry and vinous, although a residual sweetness contributes to a pleasant aftertaste that mixes bourbon with brown sugar.
Who gives a fuck about Goose Island's ownership when their beer tastes this good?
All that said, Péché Mortel is still better... just.
Dieu du Ciel Péché Mortel
Bottle, 9.5% ABV
What other words can describe the sensation caused by sampling Péché Mortel for the first time?
It's enough to make a devout atheist submit to the belief of an all-powerful deity. How else could this existence of this sublime nectar be explained?
It would be no exaggeration to say this is one of the greatest stouts I've ever tried. Definitely the best I've sampled in 2013.
Initially, I had been determined to try Dieu du Ciel's Aphrodisiaque and, in its absence, this had acted as a substitute. Maybe I was wrong all along or maybe I NEED to try Aphrodisiaque.
Either way, this is no substitute.
It pours a thick, opaque black with a foamy mocha-coloured head that quickly dissipates, leaving only a slight halo round the edge of the glass.
Immediately upon pouring, strong coffee aromas fill the air, as if fresh coffee beans had been ground ready for use in a shot of espresso. This sharp, bitterness soon mellows, creating a softer aroma of caffe latte, followed by sweet liquorice, strong dark chocolate, molasses and a touch of roasted malt.
The nose is invigorating enough but the taste is truly eye-opening. Rich, sweet and well-rounded, this is a phenomenal beer, which is every bit the self-indulgent treat.
Thick, treacly liquid washes over the palate, bringing the soothing sweetness of English toffee accompanied by the rich, bitter roast of an espresso served in a Milanese café.
But, no matter how strong the coffee comes through, it never feels overpowering. Bitter and sweet work together perfectly, the two opposites forming an unlikely pact where neither is allowed to develop a position of prominence.
The coffee is well balanced by chocolate, molasses and vanilla, as the velvety liquid works its way through the mouth.
A dry finish leaves the persistent aftertaste of roasted malt and coffee but with a sticky sweetness that clings to the sides of the mouth, providing plenty to enjoy even after the bottle is long gone.
Péché mortel might be French for mortal sin but I'm not sure how something so good could be at all sinful.
Nothing says Christmas quite like beer with a bit of holly on the bottle.
Well, maybe apart from gross overeating, tacky German markets selling pork in a bap or hot wine with a cinnamon stick shoved in it.
I'll be honest, I've never quite understood the Christmas beer thing. It's always seemed more like a crass marketing gimmick than an attempt to create a genuine seasonal product - a chance to rebadge one of the usual core range and call it something like 'Good King Bramling Cross' or 'Away in a Mash Tun'. And, quite frankly, you can stick that up your backside.
However, what good is a moral code when Christmas beers taste like this? Forget the festive name, the red and green label and the bloody holly, this is an incredible beer for any time of the year and well worth the big price tag.
It pours an inviting deep mahogany but is impressively clear despite the heavy colour and glimmers brilliant red when it catches the light. A creamy yellowish head sits atop, leaving reassuringly thick lacing all down the glass, so it definitely looks the part without the need for a sodding cinnamon stick.
Given the Christmas theme, you might be expecting a whiff of nutmeg, gingerbread or spiced apple but, luckily, there's nothing of the sort. The hairs on the inside of your nostrils are singed by big, bold aromas of resinous hops, pine, orange pith and grapefruit zest and tickled by fragrant cedar. They fight for attention with big malt aromas of toffee, toast and earthy roast. Keep inhaling and notes of demerara sugar and dark rum begin to emerge too.
If that wasn't confusing enough, the taste comprises a similarly unusual mix of collosal flavours. The remarkable thing about this beer is that it's at once simple and ridiculously complex - a well-judged balance of malt and hops, yet a melding of multiple layers that are both contradictory and complimentary.
It starts with soft caramel, leading a path into tongue-tingling resinous hops, floral pine, bitter grapefruit rind, orange zest and pineapple. All the while, the malt character continues to build, toffee and toasted brown bread leading towards rich chestnut and a slight oakiness.
As a consequence, it takes on an almost port-like character, red grape and dried cherries accompanied by a soft alcohol warmth. The finish is slightly astringent and bitter but leaves the mouth buzzing from the huge hop presence.
It's enough to melt the heart of even the biggest grinch, hence the Christmas tree in my picture.
Have I told you how much I love Christmas beer?
Odell 5 Barrel Pale Ale
You know what you're getting with an Odell pale ale.
It's fairly safe to say, by this point, that the Colorado brewers know what they're doing when it comes to this particular variety, having delighted drinkers' tastebuds for years with their hop-forward beers.
Such is the quality and variety of their range that 5 Barrel has become something of a forgotten child - the one that has long since departed for university and, it is assumed, can fend for itself.
It never gets the kind of accolades afforded to St Lupulin and their house IPA, yet would have been viewed as an out-and-out triumph if it had been brewed by a young up-and-comer.
I don't tend to revisit beers again and again because, quite simply, there are too many good ones and too little time but 5 Barrel is one of those I could happily knock back all night. It's not devastatingly strong at 5.2% and provide the hop punch you'd expect from a double without a tongue-lacerating level of bitterness.
It pours virtually picture perfect - golden orange with a thick white head that shows admirable sticking power, particularly given the enthusiasm with which I usually attack it, leaving a web of heavy lacing all the way down the glass.
Unlike many easy-drinking IPAs and pales, the aroma is swamped by pungent resinous notes rather than juicy citrus or tropical fruit, which isn't a bad thing I may add.
It's like sticking your nose into an unmarked paper bag full of boiled sweets where the lemon and orange sherberts you expected have been replaced by scented satins providing big, sticky lumps of floral sweetness. It's a heady, alluring mix.
First sip reveals light caramel, delicate and soothing, but it isn't long before the tap opens, releasing a gush of thick hop juice. You can almost feel the lupulin leave a sticky, stubborn coating as it works its way through the mouth.
But considering the force of this hop assault, you're left waiting in expectation of a bitter finishing kick that never really comes.
Instead it finishes largely soft and sweet, the gentle carbonation helping to smooth its path and make this a proper guzzler of a beer.
Founders Centennial IPA
Bottle, 7.2% ABV
It's another WORLD EXCLUSIVE from your super soaraway Beer Battered.
Today we can reveal EXCLUSIVELY that, shock horror, Founders Centennial IPA is an excellent beer.
It's a revelation in-keeping (Or should that be inn keeping? Boom boom.) with my commitment to reporting only the most up-to-date breaking news from the world of beer, having trawled the wilds of Michigan to find this particular rarity.
OK, enough of the crap. I realise that anyone with more than a passing interest in good beer will be well aware of Centennial's merits but I was compelled to write this particular review after picking up a bottle from Manchester's Beermoth and rekindling a lost love affair years since lapsed.
In a flash, I was transported back to the moment we first met, surrounded by über-trendy types in some hipster hellhole on New York's Upper West Side.
I had been ready to punch one particularly annoying specimen - an awkward chap wearing black-rimmed glasses without lenses who insisted on telling me how 'cool' my nasal Manchester twang sounded - when I was stopped in my tracks by the captivating perfume emanating from this petite beauty.
Immediately, the powerful waft of floral hops, punchy pine and zingy citrus clouded my thoughts and eased my murderous tendencies.
Everyone else in the room paled into insignificance as I excitedly eyed the voluptuous, frothy white head sat tantalisingly atop a beautiful golden orange body.
I still vividly remember the first time it touched my lips, the moment it slipped delightfully down my throat and... Whoa, whoa, whoa, I'm not quite sure where I was going with that analogy but I think you get my point.
Beyond Brooklyn Lager, Goose Island IPA and Sierra Nevada Pale this was the first heavyweight American craft beer I had grappled with and it opened the door to a whole new realm of experiences.
It remains one of my favourite IPAs, easing itself in with a smidgeon of nutty sweetness before unleashing the full force of its Centennial hop artillery. Sharp grapefruit, candied orange and juicy pineapple pound you into satisfied submission before a late charge of crisp pine finishes the job.
These forceful flavours are given a platform to perform by an underlying caramel malt - just enough to keep them in check without dulling their effectiveness. A pleasant alcohol heat warms the mouth and the dry, bitter finish has you sucking your gums like granddad when his false teeth have gone missing.
It's a strong, well-crafted, gluggable treat and it certainly won't be long before I'm organising our next tryst.