Sunday 8 May 2011

Beer Dinner at The Kirkstile Inn

There are a number of pubs around Cumbria which I have always held in high esteem. The Kirkstile Inn is one such establishment. They manage to retain a high turnover by delivering quality food and drink with a competent level of service. There are none of the usual distractions of gaming machines, juke boxes or pool tables as an attempt to draw in extra trade. It's true that the location is somewhat idyllic and in contrast to our own experiences of pub ownership, this one is easily accessible from major cosmopolitan1 conurbations.

At our last beer dinner we had a number of Cumbrian beer industry movers and shakers. One such individual was the modest and highly likeable Roger Humphries, who owns both The Kirkstile Inn and Cumbrian Legendary Ales. He was so impressed at our first dinner that he asked us to do something similar on the first night of his beer festival.

So, under the banner of Cumbrian Beer Appreciation Group we organised our second beer and food matching dinner. This time Roger's remit gave us a little more trouble with the matching as he presented us with a menu and we had to match the food. Last time we chose the beer and told the chef what food we wanted him to produce. The challenge turned out to be a powerful learning experience the result of which was a great beer and food matched menu and a great leap forward in the groups abilities to create such events.

The Menu


Jeff Pickthall and Roger Humphries

Salmon en croute – salmon fillet wrapped in filo pastry – roasted asparagus – Hollandaise sauce
Bavarian Heffe Weis No3 5% (Mitchell Krause)

This was perfect. The delicate yet highly aromatic effect of this style of beer worked well with the salmon but still had enough punch to hold its own with the hollandaise. The spicy notes harmonise with the asparagus beautifully.

Roasted sweet potato and leek soup – served with hop bread
Loweswater Gold 4.3% (Cumbrian Legendary Ales)

Again, this was a perfect match. The soup was served with a scoop of creme fraich in the centre which matches the slight buttery feel of the beer and of course the food heaven of butter on warm bread. The beer is carefully hopped leaving the grain to do all the talking, the sweet malt of which hits the spot with this delicious soup.

Sautéed button mushrooms stuffed with Crofton goats’ cheese ‘stumpy’ and Woodall’s air-dried ham – coated in herb breadcrumbs – homemade pesto
Jaipur 5.9% (Thornbridge)

If I were honest I'd say this match was the poorest of the lot; the food was delicious and of course we all know Jaipur to be a classic contemporary2 IPA well worthy of its status as a superb beer. However, this dish we knew would be tricky to get right. The pesto somehow wasn't quite the right spiciness to stand up to the strong citrus tropical fruits in the beer and somehow the bitterness jarred with the mushrooms. However, I'm probably being hypercritical and I seem to remember finishing my plateful, even though I was starting to worry that I was over half-full but not yet halfway.

Rabbit, pheasant and duck terrine – toasted rye bread – pineapple and orange chutney
Red Bull Terrier 4.8% (Barngates)

Red Bull Terrier is one of my favourite Cumbrian beers. It is perhaps not what most beer geeks would call progressive, but when on good form it's great combination of malt power along with a citrus hop bite gives undertones of chocolate and orange.

The terrine was exceptional and the chef must have put tremendous effort into this dish showing off just how skilled many pub chefs can be. The strong game meats matched well with the robust meaty beer and the orange and pineapple chutney.

Fanned cantaloupe melon – Champagne sorbet – strawberry purée
Organic strawberry fruit beer 5% (Samuel Smiths)

I'll be truthful, Jeff and I had a little bit of an argument about this one during planning. I didn't know the beer and wanted to use a Belgian fruit beer where I felt the acidity of a true lambic would work well. I was overruled, a little to my disgust, but this is a team effort and the majority rules.

I was wrong, this beer was absolutely perfect. Surprisingly tart but with enough sweetness to work with the sweet fruitiness of the food. All in all a brilliant palette cleanser to set us up for the home straight.

Cottage pie – Cumbrian beef slowly braised in Langdale beer and roasted vegetables – topped with creamy mashed potatoes
Special Oatmeal Stout 4.5% (Coniston Brewing Co)

Bearing in mind that this was the 6th course a huge portion of comfort food was perhaps not quite what was required. But it was somewhat delicious. Firstly it is nice that the cottage pie was made with chunks of meat rather than the ubiquitous mince. The superbly executed slow braised beef paired wonderfully with the silky velvet stout and this course would have made a hearty lunch stood alone.

Cumberland Rum Nicky – A traditional 17th Century hot Cumbrian sweet made with dates, orange, ginger and Jefferson Whitehaven rum with a lattice pastry topping – served with rum and raisin ice-cream
Queboid 8% (Hardknott Brewery)

How can I say this match was perfect without seeming to be biased? Queboid, being fermented with a Belgian yeast, has a fruity spicy nose. The desert is something similar to an open mince pie, spices and dark fruit dominating. The very spirity feel, sweet malts and the tart spicy hops produce a golden syrup taste typical of a double IPA and paired very well indeed.

Personally I think this beer goes with many classic British puddings; suet, egg custard and dried fruits all work well.

Local cheeses, Maris Otter malt biscuits and Melbreak chutney
Croglin Vampire 8% (Cumbrian Legendary Ales)

Croglin Vampire is a delicious dopple bock with flavours of nutty apple and a gentle texture that helps hide its strength well. Full bodied but also gentle at the same time.

The fruity nature of what is technically a lager works tremendously well with full flavour cheeses.


One of the objectives of the Cumbrian Beer Appreciation Group is to help dismiss preconceptions about beer. We chose beers to match circumstances based on appropriateness. Although we love cask beer, and three of the beers above were served this way. Two of the beers are bottle conditioned and in my view very much better for that. The remaining three, to the best of my knowledge, were served from beers that have been chill filtered and re-carbonated.

I'd have liked Queboid to have been from keg, where I think my version works particularly well, but it just wasn't practical on this occasion.

At least one of our beers would have been much better from cask rather than the bottled version. However, to provide a variety of beers at economic costs some compromises had to be made. But, just because a beer isn't cask, or isn't bottle conditioned, or perhaps is served with extraneous gas does not render the beer unworthy of consideration. Indeed, with packaged beer there is little to suggest that the container has much effect on the beer. Why does good quality packaged beer only come from bottle? Isn't a cask just a great big can? And what about those mini casks many brewers provide? They are just 70's party 9's re-launched after all.

Actually, Punk IPA and cheese works too.
Or, beer and cheese, any beer, just select the right cheese.

We decided to let the guests leave with a little bit of a surprise. Bottles might well provide a nice way to present beer but the overhead of glass adds weight and cost. If you are camping or having a picnic perhaps cans are more appropriate. One notable brewery is now controversially putting Punk IPA into cans. We thought it was a nice little touch to present each diner with a can of said beer.

I got so carried away talking about and eating that I forgot to take pictures of the best courses, sorry.


1The term cosmopolitan in the Cumbrian context is somewhat watered down. Compared to the remote Cumbrian valleys, Whitehaven, Workington and Cockermouth have managed to drag themselves out of the 19th century and stand some change of passing the mid point of the 20th century sometime soon.

2Is "contemporary" and "classic" used together an oxymoron? I don't think so in this context.


Tandleman said...

Good write up Dave though you might have been better remonstrating with Mr P over his choice of shirt, rather than his choice of beer.

Unless it was a homage to the Punk IPA can. (-;

Unknown said...

Tandleman, I totally agree re: Jeff's shirt. I think he has spent too much time hanging around with Pete Brown.

Jeff Pickthall said...

The beer I really wanted was the original Melbourn Bros lambic fruit, now sadly defunct. The organic SS one we had was not great beer by any stretch of the imagination. It smelled of Camembert for one thing. Whether it was any better than your choice of syrupy yucky Timmermans is moot.

Jeff Pickthall said...

Let me get this straight – PB wears paisley patterns. I don't. OK?

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

Paisley or hawaiian — they’re both horrible…

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

oh and I meant to say before I got carried away by intense shirt phobia, it looks like a really interesting dinner, though I wondered if you had too many courses, would be interested to taste the first course matching, salmon with its oiliness is always a tricky one I would have thought.

Unknown said...

ATJ, I'm not sure there was too many courses. It was a lovely well paced service, although I did worry that commercially the kitchen was operating longer than it should have done.

It would have been perfect if the portions were 30% smaller.

The Mitchell Krause seemed to cut through the oiliness of the fish without much trouble I thought.

StringersBeer said...

I had one of those Maris Otter malt "biscuits" once - nasty. Like eating a slice of rancid dartboard.

BeerReviewsAndy said...

Surprised at the Sam smiths choice, tastes like beer with strawberry ribena in it...yuk!!

menu sounds great too other than the salmon, one thing i just cant get away with for some reason.

are these open to the general public? id love to come to one and tie it in with a few days walking (we've still gotta do that woolpack walk)

Unknown said...

Stringers, we thought the biscuits were nice with the cheese. I wonder if the ones you've tried were a different make. I wouldn't eat them without some cheese mind.

Andy, it's open to anyone. I'll let you know when the next one is on.

Leigh said...

Looks lovely, some nice sounding matches on there, Dave. It's on 'the list'. Love the oatmeal stout idea btw.