I was recently invited to visit the Hall and Woodhouse Brewery, whose main brand is Badger (Tanglefoot, Thirsty Feret) for a tour and dinner with a selection of other food or drink writers.
Situated in the Dorset countryside in the town of Blanford St Mary the brewery can trace its roots right back to 1777 making it one of the oldest breweries in the UK. Presided over by Mark and Anthony Woodhouse with head brewer Toby Heasman it is also one of the largest breweries in the country, not least due to the popularity of the beers previously mentioned. Yet it retains the culture of a craft brewery making limited edition brews designed to be aged in bottle. The evening was to demonstrate how effectively premium beer can be matched with food. As a former sommelier this was something that naturally interested me. Before the spectacular dinner, held in the brewery with it’s impressive ceiling we had a full tour of the brewery.
Led by Mark and Toby, one of the most evident emotions displayed was one of pride. Pride not only in the beer but in the rich history of the brewery. Pride in that the water they use is sourced from two wells 35m and 50m below where we were standing (Mark explained that Dorset is the only county in the UK never to have had a hosepipe ban and after a flood water still comes up through the chalky soil for months). Pride that an original mill that was made redundant in the 1970’s has been totally refurbished and has now completed over 4000 mills.
The brewery is housed over a large complex that has recently had a £20m investment of which £5m was spent on a new improved bottling line. Walking through a connecting corridor we were treated to a wall lined gallery of past winners of the Badger Chase Day at Wincanton Racecourse, a horse race that has been contested in excess of 50 times. Another wall is adorned with portraits of past chairman, of which there have been many of the 240 years of their existence.
Perhaps the highlight for me though was the little micro brewery within the brewery. Located in what must have been the only space available you could visibly see Toby’s joy when discussing it. It is here that he gets to play. He explained that hops are like herbs and spices, generally added 5 mins before the end of a brew and the very end to maximise the aroma and flavour. You can imagine Toby have a great time here concocting new beers according to his vision away from the admin that must be a huge part of his work day. With 15 cask beers and 12 bottles beers there is always some experimenting occurring which is a wonderful thing.
I was caught out. Earlier in the day Mark had suggested that when returning home after work and in need of a beer we should take one out of the fridge and let it reach 13 degrees before drinking. It would then be at it optimal temperature. I suggested that for those of us that are impatient a glass of Champagne might quench that initial thirst. I noticed a small smile develop across his face and the conversation moved on. We retreated to the excellent Rose and Crown Hotel in the village (owned by the brewery) to our rooms for a shower before returning to the brewery, just a short pleasant walk away which allowed us to get to know each other a little better.
Entering the room we would be dining in I immediately noticed Champagne Flutes on the bar causing me to smile. I had been tricked though. Upon tasting it was actually a beer but had been transformed, commanding more respect and attention. Being served in spotless Champagne flutes elevated it psychologically. I found myself analysing the Wicked Wyvern like a wine and sipping it as such. This small change made such a huge difference. This continued throughout the evening with all beers served in wine glasses. I loved it and it allowed us to sample a far wider range of beers than if we had pints, making it the perfect choice when entertaining at home. It will certainly be a feature of a future dinner party with friends.
The food and wine matched exceptionally well with the nuances of flavour in the beers complementing the foods. For example, the Shapwick has a light orange note with worked well with the orange aioli served with fish cakes. The chocolate in the venison jus was picked up perfectly with the dark chocolate notes of the Sturminster Beast. The key is try the beers (which is far more affordable than trying to select a wine) and then creating a dish with a component that reflects a note in the beer. It is huge fun to do this at home and you could all sorts of tasting parties even.
Food and Beer matching is something I am going to be exploring a lot more in conjunction (I hope) with the brewery.
Below is the menu that we enjoyed and the beers that accompanied them.
Wicked Wyvern (Amuse Bouche )
Smoked Lyme Bay Queen Scallops,Smoked Lyme Bay Queen Scallops, malted butter, home reared and cured Pancetta, pickled raisin purée.
Shapwick Monster (Starter)Purbeck Crab cake, orange Aioli with Juniper infused Golden beets.
Purbeck Crab cake, orange Aioli with Juniper infused Golden beets.
Sturminster Beast (Main Course)
Charborough Venison fillet, forest mushroom fricasee, Braeburn Apple Rosti, Chocolate Jus.
Wandering Woodrose (Cheese Course)
Dorset Blue Cheese, saffron poached pears and truffle honey with sea salted crackers.
Roaming Roy Dog (Dessert)
Hot chocolate pudding with blackcurrant sauce, vanilla and mango ice cream