Tuesday, 8 December 2009

A posh dinner with posh beer

I'm new to this really. I've been writing this blog for just over a year and very much the new kid on the block. It's a bit daunting at first with all these great people I'd read about. I was too late to join in with the Beer Writers dinner last year and anyway I was stuck in an Amsterdam hotel that very evening trying to get to Portland Or, USA, to sample some West Coast USA beer. Anyway, the point is I was already getting a little awe struck by the prospects of getting involved with this prestigious guild that I'd already heard lots about. The dinner and awards ceremony sounded like a very big deal.

In the intervening year I had built up more and more anticipation about the event. Apart from the hope that I might get an award I was also interested in meeting more people in the beer writing world, and of course trying the expert's choices on food and beer matching. I'd heard people raving about the dinner as well as one or two disgruntled noises from other quarters. I like to remain open minded about things, and anyway I think I was still in the awe struck mode of being among stars of the beer world. I felt quite a bit of excitement, and I was trying to nonchalantly keep that under wraps. Surprisingly, I still had a good appetite and tucked into the canap├ęs with delight and polished off a couple of beers, which helped calm the inner nerves a little.

After finding our table, we sat down with childish anticipation for the promised culinary excellence and beer pairing to die for. But first Adrian and Tim grilled the Chef Christian Honor on the presented menu, well, perhaps he was just lightly poached. A nice little introduction which was neatly put together. It would be good to think that the stick in the mud traditionalists got the point; even if they didn't agree with the choices, it's a little bit like art; in the eye of the beholder. Moreover, the efforts by the organisers were not done over a few pints on the back of torn up beer mats, no, lots of thought has gone on here.

The first course was an interestingly presented clam chowder. The soup was tasty enough but on the rather extensive flat rim of the bowl was a croquet topped with caviar, a mussel and a pea sprout planted upright. Paired with Meantime Pilsner, which I got to try before the soup arrived, and found to be a totally agreeable beer. The refreshing and bitter hoppy beer worked well with the creamy soup.

Next there was the smoked venison filled with goats cheese on top of a fig and apple juice terrine. This was served with Duchesse De Bourgogne. This beer is already a beer I like. I love goats cheese, venison, things that are smoked, figs and apples. What could go wrong? Absolutely nothing. This was heaven and the best course for me. It's difficult to improve on the description on the menu, so I won't. The food was very well executed and the beer matched like a dream.

The Rabbit matched with Ringwood Old Thumper caused a stir. Most on our table didn't like the beer match. It didn't help that the first aroma I got from the beer was citrus urinal blocks, but bear with me. The Rabbit was actually cooked quite well. Some complained it was dry but in fact rabbit is an extremely lean meat. When I cook rabbit I use a stuffing that has a little bit of pork fat in it to offset this. I enjoyed Christians execution of this dish. Towards the end of the course I tried the beer again. I felt that after breathing for a few minutes and loosing a little carbonation I got estery notes which I found agreeable.

As the Fullers Vintage 2005 and Camembert were being served Zak decided time was running out and the awards should be announced. That was it, no chance to really savour this one. Nerves started to set in. I had promised to twitter the results so I had to get my BlackBerry out. A spoon full of cheese and a mouth full of beer. Nice, but the taste and smell senses were overtaken by anticipation. Brewer of the Year, Travel Bursary, Beer and Food Writing. I twittered them all trying to keep ahead by typing in the title while Zak was giving his speech and only having to copy down the details of the name off the helpful power point slide, but even then I know I spelt at least one persons name wrong.

New Media Awards Runner up.. oh shit, this is my gig. Take my mind off it by typing the title into twitter.

Now, I'd gone to the event very much telling myself that I probably wouldn't win anything. There was someone deep inside that was desperate for a prize. My concious self kept telling him to STFU. I knew that if I didn't get something I'd be disappointed, and I knew that was likely, so I'm working out how to look happy about getting nothing.

Zak started to read out the introduction and the questions about what the category was about, blogs? Video tastings? I forget exactly what he was saying "get to the bloody point Zak" I thought, still, I try to keep calm and detached. But the following words, kindly sent to me by Zak, still fill me with emotion;
"The judges felt very strongly that along with the quality of the writing, there should be some further attempt to engage with the online community - either through inviting people to contribute to their blog by asking questions of the reader, or by providing a unique point of view that perhaps cannot be accessed through any other channel.
There are many honourable mentions here, but quality and consistency also play a part. Given all of this, we are happy to announce that the runner-up in the Brains SA New Media category, for his blog about the trials and tribulations of running a pub in the remotest reaches of Cumbria, is Dave Bailey"
During this speech there was the full range of over confident certainty right through to complete self doubt and back again, several times. Additionally there was a peculiar part of me not wanting this one because then I can't get the next, arguing with the sensible one who is saying "don't be daft, you'll be lucky to get this". At some point in time Ann said out loud "It's you" before Zak said my name.

I guess I'd better fill in the tweet when I get back from the stage then. If the truth be told I was having difficulty not smiling some sort of bizarre, disbelieving smile whilst at the same time making sure I was portraying just how pleased I was.

I got my cheque and returned to my seat. I continued to tweet the results. Mark Dredge beat me and Pete Brown, of course, got the Beer Writer of the year. For what it's worth he must have tweeted the fact before he went for the stage. I'd already filled it in and just hit "send" when it was confirmed, that's where my money was. My cheese didn't get finished. Neither did my chocolate pudding. I did have quite a lot of the Fullers Vintage and the Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter. I don't care whether it's innovative to put C hops in a stout or not, I liked this and I imagine it goes well with the chocolate and the rest of the palaver in the cake. I had gone beyond caring about the food, I'd done it, I'd got an award. The beer was a friend of mine though, I like beer, very much and that night I loved it more than anything.

I don't think I can state just how much I enjoyed the evening. No, I don't think it was just because I got the result I wanted. I'd go again just for the food and beer. I'd go again just for the company and the chance to meet more people of like minded views, or perhaps even with different views, but who care about beer and breweries and the like.

I wonder if the people who organised the dinner got the thanks they deserve; Adrian Tierney-Jones, Tim Hampson and Mark Dorber? I wonder if the traditionalists know how much effort goes into making the food created by Christian Honor? I wonder if anybody thanked Zak Avery and his team of judges?

I think a great deal of effort went into a superb evening. I'm grateful, I'll look forward to next year and I'll try very hard not to be disappointed if I don't win anything next time.


Tim said...

I hope you got shitfaced afterwards! Was the beer free?

Unknown said...

Tim, I had a merrily contented time where copious amounts of alcohol was consumed. Does that count?

The beer was inclusive in the £50 for guild members $60 for non-member ticket price. In my opinion well worth it.

Anonymous said...

I hope Ann didn't get raucously drunk and do the usual nude dance on the table tops. Anyway well done again. Do you think that chowder dish and the venison dish might be finding their way to your menu any time soon? Sounds delicious!


BeerReviewsAndy said...

Nice one dave! a great read as always!

dont think pasta and a pint in ambleside comes anywhere near that lol!

BeerReviewsAndy said...

Nice one dave! a great read as always!

dont think pasta and a pint in ambleside comes anywhere near that lol!