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Innis and Gunn beer and food pairing at Hix Oyster and Chop House, Smithfield:
In the craft beer arena, there are the new young guns and the old guard. Old doesn’t actually mean that old though as the craft beer revolution in the UK just isn’t that old. Innis and Gunn, however, were pretty much in at the start. Dougal Sharp founded Innis and Gunn in 2003. You might wonder why it isn’t called “Sharps” Apparently Innis and Gunn are Dougal and his brother’s middle names. It certainly has a good ring to it. Despite being amongst the small cadre of what is the old guard, Innis and Gunn have not sat on their laurels (and they’ve won quite a few!), instead, they have consistently experimented and innovated. Dougal had been barrel ageing beer pretty much since day one, but that presents a problem when you have strong demand, as having beer tied up in barrels maturing for a period is very costly and time-consuming. Dougal had an epiphany and thought ” why put the beer in the barrel when we can put the barrel in the beer?” This spark of a thought led Dougal to slicing up the barrels and then dispensing them into the beer in stainless steel tanks. The result was an identical flavour profile. This clever move allows for barrel-aged beer to be produced at a much lower cost without any loss of quality. Many other craft breweries have followed this example, but Dougal was there first. Before starting Innis and Gunn, Dougal spent 15 years working for his father at the Caledonian Brewery. It was there that he discovered the benefits of barrel ageing beer, and was ready to strike out on his own. It was a bit of a gamble to be launching a brewery on the back of a lesser known technique then, but Dougal stuck to his ideas, and you will now find many other breweries around the world who have barrel projects.
Mark Hix is an English restaurateur and Chef, having spent 17 years in the trade before opening the Hix Oyster and Chop House in Smithfield, where we were fortunate to be eating this evening. Mark’s restaurants prioritise British ingredients and cooking, and food and alcohol pairings have always been at the forefront. Beer is now beginning to get the attention it’s due in food pairing and it’s great to see two British masters in their fields get their heads together and produce something special.
We started off with a starter of beer battered oysters, the batter, of course, being made with Innis and Gunn beer. This was paired with ”The Original” Bourbon barrel aged. There is some light residual malty sweetness in this beer which worked well with the slight sweetness you find in oysters. Beer often pairs extremely well with anything with a fat content such as battered food has, as the carbonation works very well as a palate cleanser, gently scrubbing your palate and thereby allowing a fresh wave of taste to cross it. “The Original” has great complexity to it, and the Bourbon is clear, but not overpowering at all, more a notable background note.
Next up was a Gull’s egg and Wye Valley Asparagus salad, also paired with “The Original” British in season asparagus is wonderful, and the gull’s egg very creamy and rich, but the dressing on the salad on this dish was something else. I wish I could make a dressing like that! Once again the Original beer worked well, this time contrasting against the green vegetal note of the asparagus, and the sharpness of the dressing. The main course and star of the show was the Stargazy pie, paired with “Blood Red Sky” which is aged with Rum Barrels. The Stargazy pie is a classic British pie with rabbit and lobster serving as the meat element. Everything about this pie was fantastic and moreish, with super-short pastry, and a very rich gravy. The Rum notes in the Blood Red Sky beer were a perfect match here again, with the slightly sweet tang of rum somehow meeting the lobster taste perfectly! This beer has a slight red wine like quality to it, and it’s slightly higher alcohol content of 6.8% abv is a good match to rich food.
The final two dishes were the desert courses, a sweet chocolate mousse and honeycomb dish, and baked Camembert from Alex James’s dairy. The chocolate course was paired with “Vanishing point 02” an Imperial stout aged for a year in Bourbon barrels. As an Imperial Stout, it’s in the correct abv range at 11% and is rich and viscous. This was a case of sweet with sweet in matching. Vanishing point 02 in itself is not sweet, having some slight tannic over notes, but the middle range is alcoholic Damsons, with Bourbon appearing in the aftertaste. It’s a fantastic example of an Imperial Stout!
Innis and Gunn are perhaps less well known than they should be. They’ve been in the craft beer scene for a lot longer than most others, and have innovated new techniques quietly and efficiently. Unlike others, they have not shouted from the rooftops about how great they are but just got on with it. The result is that they have a very solid range of superb beers that will stand up to anything else out there. If you have not considered pairing beer with food before, then now’s the time really, it has a huge amount to offer. Innis and Gunn’s barrel aged beers can be found in many supermarkets, or online on their website. Give them a go, you won’t be disappointed I guarantee.
For more information about Innis and Gunn check their website
36-37 Greenhill Rents,
London EC1M 6BN
For a similar series of beer pairing dinners, do try Adam Handling’s Bean and Wheat food and beer pairings in Hoxton, which run on a regular monthly basis.