Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Brentwood's brewing

Brentwood is now synonymous with beer rather than Towie. The Brentwood Brewing Company was the result of, "a drunken evening in the pub in 2006 when we decided we could brew better beer than what we were drinking," according to co-founder Roland Kannor. He set up the company with Dave Holmes, who has now retired to Spain. The brewery has made remarkable progress, with Brentwood Best being declared Camra's champion bitter of East Anglia in 2007. Britain's Beer Alliance has also judged it to be the best companion beer for pickled eggs.

Roland Kannor is a man who clearly believes that the pun is mightier than the sword, as exemplified by the Beer Grylls snack bar outside. Beer names are sometimes dreamt up while sampling the product. "You don't think up a good name in the office. Carol our accounts lady came up with Good Elf." Other great names for beers include Chockwork Orange, Frosty Baubles and Elephant School Mellowphant stout, so-named because there was once an elephant training school at the site of the Ford offices in Warley. Hope and Glory is named after Roland's daughter, who is apparently called Hope Ann Gloria.

We also meet Ethan, who is possibly the youngest head brewer in the country at 26. He likes to brew in shorts and talked us through the process of brewing with complex tanks that are basically, "giant saucepans and kettles." His beers have won prizes from as far afield as Northern Ireland.

Brentwood Brewing has also boosted international relations, with three German brewers arriving with German beers for Brentwood's celebration of Oktoberfest. Roland says that, memorably, his German guests were refused admission to Sugar Hut for wearing lederhosen, presumably on the grounds that such gear would make the punters, "well jel."

If you want to sample the friendly charms of the Brentwood Brewing Company then there's a Christmas Beer Festival on December 9 at the brewery at Calcott Hall Farm off the Ongar Road, from 10.30am-5pm. Check out the Brentwood Brewing website or Visit Essex for details of Essex's burgeoning range of food and drink.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Barking bard Billy Bragg woos Islington

The revolution is just a tea-towel away…
Great to see Billy Bragg at the Islington Assembly Rooms, along with my daughter and a contingent of Brentwood Bragg fans enjoying the beers in the Highbury Brewhouse and Kitchen. Thirty years on he still ends his set with "My name's Billy Bragg, I'm from Barking, Essex. Good night!" So I think Mr Bragg has sided against the pedants who insist that Barking is now part of a London borough — spiritually it's Essex. There were several requests for A13 Trunk Road To The Sea, but sadly Billy said he only plays it in Essex. He did play much of the soundtrack of my youth, a brilliant body of work including Greetings To The New Brunette, Must I Paint You A Picture, Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards, Sexuality, St Swithin's Day, The Man In The Iron Mask and of course New England. Bragg managed to mention everything from Victor Hugo to climate change and bring West Ham's departed gaffer Slaven Bilic into the intro to Accidents Will Happen. A great gig and do check out Billy's new mini-LP Bridges Not Walls

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Jam gin at Tiptree

Just enjoyed a great gin tasting session at the Wilkin & Sons factory in Tiptree. The purveyors of legendary Essex jams and marmalades have now expanded into fruit gins. The gin liqueurs are a combination of Witham-based Hayman's Gin and fruits gown by Wilkins & Son. The tasting session was in the factory's museum where we were surrounded by old jam-making equipment, vintage jam jars and pictures of the Wilkin founders and the current "Mr Peter" Wilkin, who still runs the old family firm.  

First we tried Little Scarlet Strawberry gin made from the unique strawberries grown at Tiptree. This really was excellent, like drinking sweet alcoholic jam. Next it was English Raspberry and then English Damson. Credit to the member of our party who tried Damson gin with Prosecco (aka Fruit Gin Royale). Finally we sampled the Rhubarb gin, which unmistakably merged hints of rhubarb crumble with a string gin kick. All would be fine bases for cocktails. As the great Dr Feelgood might have sung, "you've got me on the jam and alcohol…" After the tasting we went to the tearoom's shop to buy Blood Orange marmalade, Little Scarlet jam (buy while stocks last after a poor summer for fruit) and some Tiptree Lemon Curd. 

Wilkin & Son offer some hope of how we'll survive Brexit as they already have 11 tearooms in Essex and export all around the world. Another plus is that when Mr Peter retires it will become a worker's co-operative. Lovers of Wilkin & Son should also check out the chapter on Tiptree jam in my book The Joy of Essex. Thanks to Visit Essex for organising the tasting. Gin and jam — it doesn't get better than this.