Beer Snack #2 – Pickled Eggs

The pub snack. There are the obvious staples – the standard crisp or variations of this theme, such as twiglets, bacon rashers, or even the scampi “I can smell you from here” fries.

Alas, these are but a non-entity when it comes to the might of the pickled egg.

Truth be told, I’ve never had the courage. I’ve never wanted to enter through the looking glass and into that medicinal remedy that has laid them to rest.
The fateful day begun unremarkably; I believe it’s called ‘hair of the dog’. Nevertheless, a generic form of the pub snack journey ensued.
From beer to crisps, back to beer, maybe a pie back to beer then onto peanuts. But once such a standard has been set in one sitting – there is only one way to go. And it isn’t up. It’s down. Way down in that jar on the counter – you know, on top of the meat counter. Oh, meat raffles don’t happen in your local? Still, the deafening silence engulfed the trip to the bar, not to mention a rubber band or two to get the welded lid off. The face that took in this time bomb resembled a crumpled piece of paper; which said more than words ever could. But then they did, and those words? “It tasted of age…”

Some trivia:
The Go! Team are signed to Pickled Eggs Records

Some more:
On November 23, 1997, a previously healthy 68-year-old man living in Illinois became nauseated, vomited, and complained of abdominal pain. During the next 2 days, his symptoms worsened and he experienced trouble breathing, necessitating hospitalization and mechanical ventilation. Physical examination confirmed abnormal nerve functioning and some paralysis. Possible botulism was diagnosed, and an antitoxin was given. A food history revealed no exposures to home-canned products; however, the patient had eaten pickled eggs that he had prepared 7 days before onset of illness and symptoms of illness began 12 hours after eating the eggs. The man recovered from the poisoning after prolonged supportive care

Beer Snack #1 – Pork Scratchings

This little piggy went into a bag

Just think of all the good things that come from pigs (with apologies to Vegetarians). Bacon. Pork Chops. Gammon steaks. Sausages. Pork Pies (just about). The humble pig lends itself to numerous snacks and quick foodstuffs, which can be eaten from first thing in the morning (bacon roll), to last thing at night (bacon roll). But aside from a blackened sausage roll at a damp barbecue, very few of these products are consumed with beer. They can be, of course – but there’s only really one specific beer snack that comes directly from hogs – the Pork Scratching. The BeerCast panellists bravely took on these crumbly curls of swine fat, and discovered how they go with a fruity Scottish wheat beer. But first, some history…

Pork scratchings are one of those peculiar British institutions that developed from the need to use every part of a valuable animal when it was slaughtered (see also tripe, trotters, kidney pudding). Sometime in the 19th Century they appeared in the kitchens of the urban townspeople of the Black Country, in the West Midlands. These days, they are sold in pubs all over the UK, although in the experience of the BeerCasters these days mostly in older, more ‘traditional’ pubs (i.e. doubtful if you could find a packet in your local Weatherspoon’s). But if you search you can find them in surprising places – I found the packet we tried dangling from a plastic display in the massive beer aisle of one of Edinburgh’s largest Tescos.

‘Mr Porky’ Pork Scratchings are the UK’s largest seller (which explains why they are in Tescos), shifting 20m packs a year. Made by Redmill Foods of Wednesbury, midway between Walsall and West Bromwich, they are from the heart of the Black Country. “There’s snout better with a pint!” claims their impressive website, which has their full product range. We tried the ‘Prime Cut Scratchings’, but they also make regular pork scratchings, pork crunch, pork crackles, and the rather odd-sounding ‘brown sauce crispy bacon bites’ and ‘tomato sauce crispy bacon bites’. The first thing you notice is the jolly packet, which features a rotund butcher doffing his straw boater. The second thing is the warning that ‘only people with strong teeth’ should eat them. The third is the fat content – 46%.

This is unavoidable when you consider what they are – a curl of pig skin, or rind, with the attached layer of fat underneath. Produced properly, the skin is hard and crunchy (hence the tooth warnings), and the fat softer and crumbly. North Americans have a different thing in mind – what they call pork rinds, is puffier and more ‘crisp-ish’. These are known as ‘pork crunch’ in the UK. Pork scratchings are heavy, as they are deep fried and coated with salt. The skin is burned to remove the hairs, but some do remain (apparently the connoisseurs prefer them). Whatever your outlook, and whether you’ve tried them before or not, they are possibly the ugliest food item you can bag up and flog to drinkers. Which is why we started with them.

What We Say“Being a Yorkshireman, I’ve had these before, essentially it’s just salt. The crispy bit on the outside isn’t so bad, but the soft bits aren’t so nice. I knew someone who used to eat a bag of these every day. They aren’t too bad.” [Shovels]; “I’ve never tried these at all – they really smell porky. Mine’s got hairs on it – that can’t be good – it also looks like a dried up slug. It tastes of pork-flavoured salt. Actually, it’s revolting.” [Richard]; “I’ve never had them before either, and I can’t say I want to – have you looked inside the bag? It smells so bad – but why do they look biscuity? This is the foulest pork-based thing I’ve eaten today…” [MrB]

So, not high marks for the Pork Scratchings. But maybe they are an acquired taste, as the one panellist who’d had them before didn’t mind them as much as the two newcomers. Having said that, this particular newcomer won’t be going back for more.

Red Mill Foods
Hairy Bar Snacks website
Pork Scratching World

Some BeerCast news – we’ve now recorded two podcast episodes, and still need to re-record parts of Episode 1. After we’ve got together and done that, we can hopefully release the first episode – with the second following not too far behind. But we’ve still got to do jingles, sound effects, and artwork – so it might be a while. But we promise to get more blog posts up, and once we’ve finished the two Scottish editions, we’ll be popping over the border to sample some English ales…

BeerCast #1a – Light and Dark

Old Engine Oil not pictured

As soon as we decided to divide our beery adventures into country-specific chunks, we could only really start in one place. With over eighty years of cumulative ale drinking between us, Scotland had to be the first stop. The four beers chosen for the debut edition are from some of the most respected brewers to be found here. But they have some standards to live up to – their predecessors have been producing beer for over 5,000 years. Before the hop era dawned, they were using heather and herbs as main ingredients. Afterwards, the industry prospered – in 1509 Aberdeen had over 150 brewers, all of them women (the original Alewives). When joined to England in the 1707 ‘Act of Union’, taxes on Scottish beer were reduced dramatically, and taxes on Malt removed completely. Brewing flourished, and Scottish beer drinkers still enjoy the results today.

1. Three Sisters Scottish Ale (4.2%abv)
The Atlas Brewery, Kinlochleven.
500ml glass bottle

The Atlas Brewery sits on the site of an old aluminium smelter in the town of Kinlochleven, a few miles south of the Highland town of Fort WIlliam. The brewery was founded on the site after it ended its 75 years of production, in 2002. Using local water with five varieties of imported hops, they have several seasonal beers and three favourites – Latitude, Nimbus, and Three Sisters Ale. The latter is named after a mountain range in nearby Glencoe. You can contract Atlas to brew a personal beer for you, which they will produce to your specifications and either bottle or put in kegs before delivering it to your door.

What They Say“A lightly malted beer with a short, hoppy, bitter finish.” [The Good Beer Guide]; “A dark, fruity, refreshing ale with chocolate and crystal malts to give it a dark ruby colour, and a characteristic toasty and liquorice flavour.” [Atlas Brewery]

What We Say“It’s bitter but flavoursome, smells malty, tastes malty. It gets better the warmer it gets.” [Shovels]; “First off it smells of whisky, but it tastes darker than it looks. It’s a grower, not a pub beer as it’s got a strong taste – but it’s nice.” [Mr B]; “It tastes of chocolate, but is very bitter – and it doesn’t keep it’s head. It’s an acquired taste, not immediately drinkable. Not really sure I like it.” [Richard]

2. Old Engine Oil Dark Beer (6%abv)
Harviestoun Brewery, Alva.
330ml glass bottle

Originially sited in a 200yr old stone barn, Harviestoun now produce their wares in a modern site on an Industrial Estate in central Scotland. They have been lavished with awards, the undoubted pundit’s favourite being Schiehallion, which has won seven CAMRA British champion medals in the nine years it has been produced. They won the Champion Beer of Britain in 2003 for Bitter and Twisted. Their brewery is sited in Alva, a small town of 5000 in the foot of the Ochil Mountains, near Stirling. It was founded by Ken Brooker, a former worker at Ford’s Dagenham motor plant – hence the name given to their darkest product.

What They Say“A near black brew with a silky-smooth rummy aroma, a coffee-ish palate, and a suggestion of the darkest chocolate.” [Beer Hunter]; “The palate is full and malty, with dark burnt fruits and the promised liquorice and chocolate in abundance, with a slightly wine-gum-like quality offset by a bracing coffeeish hop bitterness.” [Oxford Bottled Beer Database]; “Strong and dark but wickedly, wickedly smooth. Chocolate dominates the flavour, which is nicely balanced by the bitterness of the hops. A delicious “after dinner” beer which leaves a bittersweet aftertaste to savour.” [Harviestoun Brewery]

What We Say“Not fruity at all, there’s all kinds of things going on. Jet black – there’s no light coming through it. Big coffee/liquorice flavour.” [Richard]; “It really looks like oil, it’s blacker than Guinness. Very syrupy – it’s stronger than the last one.” [Shovels]; “It doesn’t smell of anything much, but there’s a bit hit on the back of the tongue. I get some rummyness and coffee – it’s nice.” [Mr B]

3. Arran Blonde Premium Beer (5%abv)
The Arran Brewery, Brodick.
500ml glass bottle

There are only 621 people in Brodick, but they are lucky to have a brewery right on their doorsteps. Arran (not to be confused with the sweater-loving Aran in Ireland) is Britain’s ninth largest island, an hour’s ferry ride from the mainland. Production started in early 2000, and now outputs 200 barrels a week, plus additional bottles for the busy supermarket trade. They have an amber ale, a malty dark, and a hoppy blonde in their range – the last one of these was sampled by the panel.

What They Say“Arran Blonde has a floral hop and new mown grass aroma, the taste is well balanced with citric fruit and a good hop character. A clear tasting pale golden beer in a continental style.” [Arran Brewery]; “A hoppy beer with a substantial fruit balance, the finish is increasingly bitter. Aromatic, it drinks below it’s weight.” [The Good Beer Guide]

What We Say“One of my favourite beers. Not as nice a smell as others, but easy to drink quite a lot of this in a night.” [Mr B]; “Hoppy, not malty. It looks like a lager and goes down much easier than the other two. It’s my favourite so far.” [Richard]; “This is quite tasty, despite the smell. It’s better than any lager out there.” [Shovels]

4. Black Isle Organic B.C. Wheat Beer (4.5%abv)
Black Isle Organic Brewery, Munlochy
500ml glass bottle

Whilst Arran is an island (and two islands if you count Irish Aran), the Black Isle isn’t. Surrounded on three sides by water (the Moray, Cromarty and Beauly Firths), the other side is a river. North of the highland capital Inverness, the Black Isle Organic Brewing Corporation started in 1998, and are based in an 18th Century building. They only use locally malted organic barley and wheat, and four of their six regular beers are bottle conditioned – live yeast ferments for a second time after production, resulting in a thicker brew with some sediment, but also more taste.

What They Say“A semi-cloudy Belgian-style wheat beer brewed with orange and coriander. Delicious served with mussels and crusty bread.” [Black Isle Brewery]

What We Say“It smells like a root vegetable, tingles the top of the mouth.” [Shovels]; “There’s a cooked garden pea/cabbagey smell to it – but it’s very refreshing. If you get the dregs it’s a bit chunky.” [Mr B]; “This smells quite bad, and it looks like bathwater. But it’s really good.” [Richard] *

* We found during tasting that we were actually drinking a bottle almost three months out of date. This possibly made it taste better, but smell worse…

So based on the three-member panel, it would seem Arran Blonde came out a clear favourite. Join us next time for the other five Scottish beers in the second half of Episode 1 – a similar range from lighter ales to darker stouts. Stay tuned for the debut BeerCast podcast, reaching the airwaves as soon as it’s been edited and compressed into something worth listening to (hopefully). Also, coming very shortly – our special post on the first BeerSnack tested. Tried along with the Black Isle Wheat Beer, as promised in the previous post it’s the most famous British beer snack ever. It is, of course, the humble pork scratching. Deserving of it’s own entry here, find out what they are, how they are made, and whether we liked them. (I’ll give you a hint – all the panellists totally agreed on that last aspect).

Until then, enjoy your beer.

Panellists – Mr B, Shovels, Richard

BeerCast #1 Lineup

Alrighty, after an intense two hour production meeting this week, the lineup and format of BeerCast episode One has been finalised. Admittedly, that took five minutes and we then spent 1hr 55min playing with the amusing sound effects in GarageBand, but there you go. We quickly realised that testing nine beers would be nigh on impossible if we wanted to a) keep the podcast to under a couple of hours, and b) wanted to go to work the next morning. So we trimmed the list down slightly, to four beers. But fret not, for Episode 2 will be the other five – yes, Scotland has a two-parter.

Try and find the beers below and taste them along with the panel. If you’re in the UK, they are all available at branches of ASDA and Waitrose, along with possibly other supermarkets and specialist beer retailers. Elsewhere, try your local fancy liquor store, hypermarché, or bottle shop – hopefully some of these will have made it overseas. In the USA, affiliated retailers certainly stock Old Engine Oil, for example. Best of luck!

But it’s not just ales and lagers on the BeerCast. It’s been scientifically proven to be impossible to drink beer in a pub without the mind turning to snacks. After all, there’s only so much room it can slosh around in without something to soak it up. So inserted into each episode will be a specialist section on the humble bar snack, one per edition. We have an idea of a few to start with – but any suggestions of things to eat with beer are welcome – email us at the BeerCast address. Providing we can find some before Monday, we’re starting the (as yet un-named) segment with the most famous British beer drinking snack ever. Stay tuned.

BeerCast Episode 1 selection

I’ll Get Them In

OK so we’re working our way around the world (fuelled by beer) and we start the quest in bonny Scotland. We’ll be supping ales, lagers (supposedly) and wheat beers from Edinburgh to Glasgow through Alva, Kinlochleven, Munlochy and beyond.

The beers the panel will be trying are listed below so see if you can find them in your local and remember to let us know what you think. We’ll be posting our opinions in the near future.

Note that if you can’t get hold of Tennents Lager it’s important not to panic, just suck the juice from a dead duck (through it’s beak) to achieve a similar taste and comment on that instead!

Brewery companies please note that free beer always welcome, but not sure I can convince the whole panel to vote favourably (so just send it all to me).

Have fun everyone.

“Alcohol fuels my power cells. And as a mighty robot, I…………Beep!”

So…what are you drinking?

Welcome to The BeerCast! We’re here for your all your ale-related issues. A crack team of enthusiastic amateur drinkers (although Shovels is verging on the professional), brought together in The BeerCast HQ – a cosy velvet-couched pub with a wide selection of crisps, a free pool table, and a jukebox with absolutely no easy rock whatsoever. Or it might be all easy rock, I’ve no idea. We’re not here for such frivolity, we’re here to inform and amuse about the joys of beer. With this in mind, our HQ contains an unrivalled selection of pilsners, lagers and strange musty-smelling things with odd names. Come in and pull up a comfy stool and join our adventurous panellists as we…

– Bring you all the latest relevant Beer news
– Tempt you with our favourite recommendations
– Inform you of the location of outstanding pubs
– Controversially ‘out’ awful beers and terrible bars
– Attempt many corny gags and oneliners (unavoidable, I’m afraid)
– Work our way around the world, tasting-wise…

…which is where you come in. Along with the regular updates, every fortnight the panel will assemble and taste a selection of beers from a particular country or region. Each time we’ll give you notice, so you can join in at home, sampling them alongside us and pitting your views and opinions against ours. Will you agree? Will you be angered? Will our ‘mystery tasters’ be revealed?

First up, we’ll be sampling some of the many beers brewed in Scotland. Have a look in your favourite retailer – see how many Scottish ales you can get hold of. Nearer the time, we’ll let you know what specific beers we’ll be trying. Grooben has already been volunteered to drink Tennants…

Scotland's beer website