Tag Archives: Siren

Does complex beer deserve complex food?


As phrases go, “we needed to get it off the cucumber as soon as possible, they were running riot” is one I’ve not heard before – it brings to mind green, knobbly gremlins scampering around, up to no good, like slightly watery minions. The phrase was uttered by Darron Anley, owner and founder of Siren Craft Brew, and referred to an issue that arose after a single day of ageing one of their beers; the (deep breath) cucumber, basil, mint and grapefruit-infused bourbon barrel-aged Calypso Berliner Weisse. Apparently the first of those additions was becoming too prevalent almost immediately, and had to be removed (presumably one at a time through the cucumber-diameter hole in the top of the cask). Anyway, Darron was speaking about the trials and tribulations – whilst demonstrating the amazing successes – of barrel-ageing at a pairing dinner at Edinburgh’s Spit/Fire, and it got me to thinking. Does complex beer need complex food?

The course that was paired with the barrel-aged Calypso was sea trout tartare, served with a wolfschmidt jelly, radishes, pea shoots and a black pepper & bacon tuille. With the new kitchen team in place at Spit/Fire (Ruairidh Skinner has come over from VDeep) it was predictably fantastic; the sweet, herbal fish working against – in a good way – the beer, which is unlike pretty much any other I’ve tasted. There’s a reason why some of these modern beers make you descend into 80’s wine-speak wankery – it’s because they have such a multitude of things going on. The barrel-aged Calypso gave out aromas and flavours of grapefruit and kaffir lime leaves, alongside a mossy earthyness, as well as a savoury dryness that reminded me of those enormous American-style dill pickles. When combined with the sea trout dish, each and every mouthful brought all kinds of those different flavours from both into contact.

Now, if you read the descriptions in that last paragraph and snorted into your pint, then fair enough. It’s hard to express what barrel-aged beers taste like without sounding like you’re perching on a bar stool in pseud’s corner – let alone for those beers where extra ingredients have been added into the wooden cask. And Siren are masters at this – since their inception in 2013, their keystones have been a) collaborating with a range of other scene-leading breweries, and b) acquiring and using as many barrels as they possibly can. Maiden, one of their two anniversary beers, is a liquid mixtape of rum, bourbon, tequila, brandy, red wine and other barrels, blended together in an afternoon of tasting that few beer drinkers will ever get to experience.

So how on earth do you go about pairing it with food? That particular beer was matched with a selection of cheeses (and Pedro Ximinez-soaked raisins). Their Gran Marnier-aged barley wine Long Forgotten Journey was put up against mixed berries, elderflower gratin and lavender shortbread; another riot of flavour from glass and plate. The beer in that instance had an aroma of candied orange segments, but was pretty fudge-y on the flavour, with a Picon-like dry orange finish. When tasted with the sharp raspberry and blackberry fruit, it sweetened and broadened the beer. But when the elderflower and lavender elements arrived, the beer became more like a bitter honeysuckle instead. It was all fairly exhausting stuff. But I got the impression throughout that these beers and this degree of execution from a kitchen really had to co-exist, otherwise one of the sides would dominate.

I’m not sure what would happen if you paired a complex Siren beer with something more fundamental of flavour, any more than I would be about matching one of those Spit/Fire dishes with a best bitter – but I guess with beer and food pairing, as long as one makes the other better, it doesn’t really matter how complicated they are – when both are at the top of their respective games. Maybe that is the more important take-home message.

What do you think? When it comes to the flavours of beer and food matching, should complex = complex?

Breweries to watch out for in 2015

As last year began, I posted the now traditional list of breweries to watch out for in 2014. Looking back, picking Williams Bros to have a big year based on their plans was a fairly safe bet – but the opening of Drygate has gone better than they could have hoped for (at least in my experience, and of others I’ve spoken to who have been there). Pretty much all of the other choices also produced fantastic beer.

The British brewing scene continues to be in good health – and for that, we have to thank the men and women making our beer; for their skill, commitment and imagination. Here, then, is a list of Scottish and English breweries who I think will move to that next level over the course of 2015, or who have interesting stories to watch (with apologies to producers in other parts of the UK, who’s scenes I know less well)…



Tempest – When it comes to my overall pick to take the next step in 2015, there’s simply no competition. Tempest finally – finally – have all the pieces in place to move on and really become players in the UK beer scene. That most important piece; the long-awaited new brewery, is in place giving them ten-times the capacity of the old. Added to this is Tempest’s re-brand that took place in August, giving them a cleaner look. When you factor in the beers (particularly their new and growing saison line) there are few producers making a more solid range, across every style. The upcoming Borders Rail Link is even set to terminate a hundred metres from their Tweedbank facility. 2015 is going to be Tempest’s year.




Forth Bridge Brewery – It’s almost two years since I first wrote about Dave Robertson’s plans for a brewery in the shadow of the Forth Bridge, and still no sign of the facility appearing in South Queensferry. Well, apart from a couple of photos on Twitter and then the a release of a sprawling proposal that wouldn’t look out of place amidst the wharves of San Francisco. Last year’s main FBB news was the addition of a distilling arm, set to produce whisky, gin and vodka; as well as beer – 110,000 litres a week. Another funding campaign is set for February, before the site is slated to open in September 2015. Dave’s faced plenty of battles so far – but if his facility doesn’t open this year, you have to wonder if it ever will.



Eden Mill

Eden Mill – The Eden Brewery, St Andrews always felt to me as if they had something of a crisis of identity. Sometimes confused with the Eden Brewery in Cumbria; and othertimes with the St Andrews Brewing Company. But a subtle move towards embracing the pull of spirits has given Eden a new individuality. The Eden Mill Brewery and Distillery are now clear of purpose and image, and I think they are set for big things over the next twelve months. With Paul Miller behind them, it was always a matter of time before they moved to producing hardier stuff than beer, and this dual-wield approach is becoming one of the trends within the industry. Eden Mill, as they are now, are positioned right at the front.




Lerwick Brewery – Brewing on Shetland has to be one of the most challenging propositions in the industry; there isn’t really a market like it in the UK. Sonny Priest’s Valhalla Brewery on Unst gained competition in mid-2013 with the arrival of the Lerwick Brewery, and with a flurry of announcements at the close of last year, 2015 could be the time when people in a much larger catchment area get to hear their name. Within a short space of time, Lerwick signed distribution deals that, like a game of Risk, moved their beers Scotland-wide, then UK-wide, and then into Tesco. Bold stuff for a brewery with three core beers located on an island as logistically challenging as Shetland. Will it pay off?




Brewmeister – Yes, Brewmeister. Everyone’s favourite ‘is it or isn’t it’ brewery have got an important twelve months ahead. Forgetting all the controversy of last year; as they have clearly knuckled down and gone straight, there’s nothing to hide behind but the beer. Employing a head brewer, going through a management shuffle, and systematically changing recipes – it looks as if Brewmeister are now hoping to win out purely based on the product of their brewing vessels. It’s going to be interesting to see how they’ll get on – can they win back people who may have been put off previously? Will the new-taste combine with the new-look to mean new markets? Time will tell…




Carbon Smith – Picobrewing is where it’s at; bedroom breweries are seemingly springing up all over Scotland. And why not? It gets your beers to market without rolling the dice on contracting, and your name is out there instantly. For those who’s primary goal isn’t to make a colossal profit at the end of year one, it’s now a viable proposition. Carbon Smith are the first bedroom brewer to scale up to their own facility (albeit one that measures 16ft x 8ft). But the beers emanating from it so far have been incredible. As the pico- model becomes more prominent, everyone thinking of taking the plunge will be keeping an eye on Carbon Smith’s progression.


Burning Sky

Burning Sky – I’m not sure if there was an English brewery (aside from maybe Buxton) who generated more of a steadily-rising buzz amongst the beer community last year than Burning Sky. Mark Tranter’s project in East Sussex produced some astonishing beers in 2014, particularly their barnstorming saisons. With their weighty foudres still being left to quietly do their thing, Mark’s website states “…it is not envisaged that the full extent of Burning Sky will be apparent for another 2 or 3 years.” But the secret is already out, and beer drinkers up and down the country will know their name long, long before then. There’s not an English producer I look forward to enjoying more this coming year, than Burning Sky.




Siren Craft Brew – Well, maybe it’s a tie with Siren, at least. Finchampstead’s finest are one of those rare breweries, in that they have never, ever let me down. As with Burning Sky, all of their new releases are must-purchases, irrespective of format. This coming year should be a big one for Siren Craft Brew; they celebrate their second birthday in March with a festival of barrel-aged beers (featuring their 2015 Maiden), and anyone who possesses more than a passing interest in collaborations will have marked the new Rainbow Project, as the pairings fully go transatlantic. Siren also just announced the addition of a dry-hopped Berliner Weisse to their core range. I haven’t written a more exciting paragraph than that for some time…




Roosters – Why aren’t Roosters better known? This, to me, is one of the British beer questions I just can’t understand. They make phenomenal beer, both traditional and modern in style. Their pale ales are every bit as good as Oakhams, or those from Fyne Ales. Their branding is brilliant, classic whilst being eye-catching. And the Fozardii are the nicest couple of guys you could ever hope to meet. Maybe it’s the Yorkshire thing – the sheer number of nearby competitors, and the colossal amount of outlets in the region; I don’t know. Anyway, Roosters are a sensational brewery, and to me seem permanently on the verge of a breakout year. Let’s hope that 2015 is that for them. Maybe launching canned beer will make the difference?




Northern Monk – Staying in Yorkshire, we have a brewery that is surely set for that breakout year. After a prolonged period of contracting, Northern Monk finally were able to open their own brewery a few months ago, and in the short time since have built on that considerable wave of support. This is undoubtedly down to several reasons – not the least of which are the fantastic beers they have released, right out of the gate. But, also, it’s because they have embraced (and been embraced by) the city of Leeds; their twenty-tap NMBCo Refectory has quickly become a go-to addition to the scene in this beer-mad city. As they bed in to their new location, expect great things from Northern Monk this year.




Almasty – Finally, we end this lightning-tour of premonitions in the North-East, and with yet another hugely exciting prospect. Mark McGarry, ex-Mordue and ex-Tyne Bank, is one seriously talented brewer, and the chance to head out into the wide world of brewing and produce his own recipes was too big to resist. The ‘Wild One’ (to which Almasty apparently refers) dialled up a stunning brown ale – what else – for his debut beer, and in year of wave after wave of saisons, his Sorachi-hopped version really stood out as well. Now he’s had a bit of time to take stock of the new challenge, 2015 is going to be the year Almasty become impossible to ignore.

So, what do you think? Any breweries out there who you think will have breakout years in 2015, or have stories that you really want to follow? Let me know in the comments. As ever, I’ll be checking back with these eleven breweries at the mid-way point of the year, to see how they have been getting on…

Best new beers of 2014…Siren Caribbean Chocolate Cake


The next in the lineup of best new British beers of 2014 (in order of release) was the result of a collaboration between one of the UK’s most consistently brilliant breweries and a Florida outfit that beer fans here go crazy for. (and yes, Florida isn’t in Britain, but the beer was made here…)

Caribbean Chocolate Cake (7.4%)
Siren Craft Brew, Berkshire (with Cigar City)
(keg/bottle, April)

Described as the ‘ultimate anti-recession blockbuster’, this beer was a true collaboration piece, in that both breweries sat down with a blank sheet of paper and let imaginations run riot. That’s the best thing about these kinds of meetings; the results of “Well, why can’t we do this” conversations have been some of the standout beers I can ever remember drinking. These flipboard-chats can also be the most risky though, of course, as those imaginations can lead to places that beer should never really end up. However, when you have Ryan Witter-Merithew and Wayne Wambles standing by the water cooler, you know that particular conversation will have a very interesting outcome indeed.

And so it proved. Caribbean Chocolate Cake is a ‘tropical stout’ that involved a technique Siren had never done before (but which is a staple of Cigar City); instead of ageing the beer in wood, wood was introduced to the beer, in the form of Cyprus (chips or staves, I’m not sure). The anti-recession tag was down to the fact it was also brewed with a number of experimental hop varieties, and specially-imported Dominican cacao nibs. Lactose was also added, to give the final beer a richness, and to really complement all the other smooth flavours. I remember picking up a bottle at the Edinburgh BrewDog bar and being instantly, and hugely, impressed. The word ‘interesting’ doesn’t do it justice.

Ryan’s beers always have a huge amount going on – it’s something you just come to expect. Last year’s Limoncello IPA produced with Mikkeller and Hill Farmstead narrowly missed going on the 2013 list, being one of the more memorable beers of that particular drinking year. Caribbean Chocolate Cake smashed pretty much everything else asunder this time around, though. It was stunning; one of those beers where every sip gives you a different flavour – and that is the true mark of a collaboration where absolutely nothing is left on the flipchart.

The fifth selection (out of six) of the best new British beers of 2014 will be revealed tomorrow; an amazing beer produced with one of the UK’s most talented homebrewers. Head back then to discover what that particular beer was. Ryan and Wayne then turned another page on the notepad and produced a special, one-off version of Caribbean Chocolate Cake with added Jerk spices for the Craft Beer Co’s Craft 100 festival

Craft Beer Rising Glasgow

A beer festival held in a marquee, hosted by a brewery, within the grounds of a larger brewery; Craft Beer Rising. This Russian doll of beer took place over the weekend at the Drygate facility in Glasgow, having moved north for the first time since its London inception. I ventured across from Waverly to Queen Street on the Friday to check out the trade day and then hopefully blunder into the public session that followed. Last Craft Beer Rising, at the Truman Brewery in East London, us freebooting ‘trade’ types were clinically ushered out in the interval,* so it was a welcome surprise when, as the Drygate trade session clock ticked down, rather than squawking ‘YOU WILL HAVE TO PAY FOR BEER IN THREE…TWO…ONE’, a PA announcement suddenly yelped into life that those of us already there would be subsumed into the public session that was about to begin. Hoorah! The white exhibitors’ wristband I had slyly acquired to avoid being turfed out would not be needed, after all.

* But…but…I’m a beer blogger!! [sniff]

There was quite a strange atmosphere on the Friday at Craft Beer Rising – somewhat inevitably, maybe. The morning after the night before; Thursday’s vote on the Independence referendum still fresh in everyone’s minds. The trade session itself was particularly muted, brewers staring out from behind their palleted bars, or talking to a couple of people at a time, at most. For a blogger like myself, this was great, as I could buzz from one stall to the next, repeatedly asking questions, like the last wasp of summer. Brewers, being as amenable as they usually are, were only too happy (at least on the outside) to chat away, and in the process I learned a fair bit of fascinating future plans from several of them. All of it, naturally, off the record (such is life). However, let’s just say I had thought I’d seen in all in the world of beer labelling; so watch out in that regard.

Talking to a few of the beer drinkers who arrived for the public session – or ‘bluebanders’ as us white-banded types could have piously referred to them, the number one item of feedback they had about Craft Beer Rising was the cost. Twenty-odd pounds to get in (although a net fifteen, as that included a fivers’ worth of tokens) it sounded, to many, to be on the high side of average for a beer festival, even one appended by the word ‘craft’. Maybe that had combined with the post-indyref atmosphere to keep numbers down; the Friday evening session was as quiet a beerfest as I think I’ve ever seen (although it must be said the Saturday sessions apparently sold out). Still, that meant a better chance of sounding out some interesting beer; and so it proved.

Beer of the festival for me was Harbour’s 8.7% Chocolate and Vanilla Imperial Stout; a nigh-on perfect joining of these two most complementary of flavours for strong, dark beers. Right from the off, a wow beer. Not far behind that was Stewart’s Lemon Grass-hopper Saison, created on the Craft Beer Kitchen kit by a couple of competition winners, the blend of kaffir lime leaves, ginger and lemongrass again worked beautifully. In fact, such was the buzz around this one, don’t be surprised to see this beer upscaled to the big Stewart kit and released to a wider audience. Still on the ‘things in a saison’ trend, the collaboration between Williams Bros and Stillwater – Stravaigin (6.7%) – was another humdinger. Interestingly, I’d had this before, at the Edinburgh Beer Bloggers’ Conference, but with a few more months in the keg has made it much more vibrant, clean and zesty.

It was tough at this point to avoid the barrel-aged Even More Jesus being poured from an open bottle on the Siren bar, but I’d wanted to try Undercurrent again ever since managing to get a quick half at the Hanging Bat, many moons ago. It didn’t disappoint; the oatmeal pale ale was as great as I remembered. Once again, it reminded me of a grapefruit power bar, should such a thing exist. Finally, the fifth beer of five that really made the pages of my notebook tingle was another collab – Camden’s jaunt with Beavertown, One Hells of a Beaver. Sold underneath a sign proclaiming where ‘The Home of Hells’ was (as if you were in any doubt), this mashup of Gamma Ray and Camden Hells was really quite something. Proof, if any were required, that whatever and however you want to quantify it, ‘craft beer’ is still on the rise…

Thanks to the organisers of Craft Beer Rising for the trade ticket, and the staff at Drygate who had to put in extra shifts to get it all working. The atmosphere reduced somewhat towards the end of the night, unfortunately, as news filtered through as to what was occurring on George Square (past which those of us from Edinburgh would have to go to get the train). A real shame, but as the mood in the city was better at the weekend, hopefully that pervaded to the festival as well.