Cumbria has quite a few very good food places. Some even have rosettes or stars for their food. L'Enclume is one; I've eaten there and it's very poncy and very expensive. I liked it, but there was no beer at all. There is also The Drunken Duck which houses Barngates Brewery. The food and the beer are good, although I've never really known them to do any proper beer and food matching. Generally, the best places for food don't give beer much of a consideration and the best places for beer can be a let down on the food side of things.
Recently there was a very enjoyable CAMRA organised beer dinner in Kendal. A very successful and well attended event. Pete Brown was guest speaker and it brought together 200 or so of the most enthusiastic beer people in the county. The main criterior for the selection of beer was it's LocAle credentials. A brave effort was made to match largely session beers with food, an activity that can only have limited success; I believe that for a good beer and food matching event there is a need for stronger flavours in the beer, this can never be achieved with even the best session beers1.
There are places in that big place right down south, I believe it is known as London, that really do quite a good job of both. My favourite is The White Horse at Parsons Green. There might be better places, but for now it remains the best place I've found that serves really good food and a wide selection of esoteric beers. Some people think it's overpriced and full of la-di-da-toffs, but it's only the crazy imported stuff that is pricey and you can treat the toffs with the contempt they deserve, unless you've already used up all your contempt on the beer tickers.
When it comes to beer geekery there really is very little in Cumbria to satisfy the more adventurous beer explorer. It is getting better, The Swan for instance in Ulverston is quite good, they even sometimes have Hardknott, BrewDog, Stringers and others, when the PubCo is feeling relaxed about stuff. It was the only place in Cumbria that dared have a go with our Queboid on cask. In the very same town there is The Mill, its cask beer is a little tame, if well kept, but they do have the best bottled beer selection I've yet to find in our sparsely populated expansive county.
A few months ago Ann called on a nice pub out near the tourist honey-pot area of Windermere. She reported back that I'd probably like it - and that she had sold them some of our beer. I was lucky enough to be allowed to go there on one of her delivery trips and I was not to be disappointed. Both the food and beer selection is interesting, varied and of a good standard.
Having been to various beer dinners, some better than others, the idea of getting involved with one was becoming something of an ambition. Also, I have been keen to try and promote some of my stronger beers as good food matches. After all, stuff like Infra Red and Queboid are unlikely to do well as a regular session beers, but I do believe that a market can be generated for them as accompaniments for food. Equally, I'm generally keen to see beer promoted more in various foodie establishments, for far too long wine has been seen as the drink to have with food.
The pub mentioned above, the one that now sells our beer, also sells BrewDog beers and some foreign beers from James Clay, is the Masons Arms at Strawberry Bank. I am assured that this pub has been a strong beer pub for many years. Its food is top notch pub food too having recently won Lake District Dining Pub of the Year for 2010/11 awarded by Lancashire Life. The management team: Alex, Adam and Helen have been thinking about beer events and we seem to have found kindred spirits here.
Last night a few of us Cumbrian Beer Geeks met up there with a view to organising a beer and food matching evening. It seems it might well be the inaugural event for a likely Cumbrian Beer Geek Club. It's all very new and we're hopeful that it will bring some variety to the beer world in Cumbria. You see, we don't have anything quite as good as The Sheffield Tap or The White Horse or even The Rake.
Our first event is to be a Contemporary British Beer and Classic British Food dinner. 7 beers have been picked and we are going to match with 7 taster courses of classic British dishes, possibly with our own twist where we feel it is useful for the food.
At the very least the infamous Jeff Pickthall will be there as will Neil Bowness and of course, yours truly. We will be enthusing about the beers and explaining why we have matched them with the particular foods. I am hoping there will also be a new beer launched at the evening and perhaps other little surprises.
This will all happen on Thursday 10th March. The Masons Arms has rooms, so if you live in the North and can't get yourself as far as the deep south where all these things normally happen, get yourself booked in.
1I'd go further and point out that a beer which matches well with food is probably going to be far too much for most drinking sessions. I have got nothing against session beer and most of the beer I drink is of that ilk.