There could hardly be a better match than Great British beer with Great British bangers, which is why we brought the two together for a sausage and beer tasting evening at Botley Hill Farmhouse on 21 October.
The guests assembled in the cosy Red Room, and host Sheila Benson introduced the evening’s experts: Dave Roberts, owner of Reigate’s Pilgrim Brewery, and Ken Bashford of Bashford and Co Traditional Family Butchers.
Dave took the floor, likening himself to a “wizened old brewer” (he’s not!) alongside the “young butchers” (they are!).
Beer-drinking in the UK can be traced back to the Romans, and our thirst has not waned. The ingredients are simple: water, malt, hops and yeast, yet as Dave talked us through the beer-making process, it’s clear that a great deal of skill is involved in creating outstanding beers. From the variety of hops to the type of yeast [“a vast choice”]; the preparation of the malt [“barley can be roasted and toasted”] to the water and the fermentation process, there are so many variables
The first drink we tasted, to accompany Bashford and Co’s honey and spiced chipolatas, was an award-winning lager, Riegele, described as “smooth, soft and delicious”, and this was certainly no exaggeration. Riegele comes from an historic family brewery in Germany and has very fine bubbles, making it a very pleasant drink to take with food. What distinguishes German beer from British beer, explained Dave, is that the Germans use continental malt and virgin hops which produce delicate flavours, quite unlike the more robust British beers, and a cold fermentation process which requires a different yeast from that used in warm fermentation.
Next came Progress, a much hoppier bitter, which was paired with a chilli beef sausage and confit garlic mash. While we tucked in, Ken Bashford – a butcher of 17 years’ standing who started his own business two years ago – told us about the highs and lows of his formative days of sausage recipe development. Now perfected, his early version of lemon and coriander failed to hit the mark with customers. “I thought they were great,” confessed ken, “but then a customer told me, ‘them sausages were awful.’” It was back to the mixing bowls for Ken, who discovered that swapping lemon juice for rind to cut out the troublesome citric acid “which ate into the fat” worked a treat and the lemon and coriander bangers mark II are now a firm favourite at Bashford and Co's four butchers shops.
Next we tasted a flavoursome amber bitter - Pilgrim Brewery’s Surrey beer. Dave explained that this is not dissimilar to Progress but has a much lighter quality. As we tucked into a delicious gorgonzola and portabello mushroom sausage with braised red cabbage, Ken revealed that he had developed this recipe from ingredients left over from one of his regular sausage-making courses. His students may never know what they missed!
Then we were onto Quench, a light, modern-style beer with a hint of lime with was a refreshing partner to Ken’s free-range pork and apricot sausage (a lovely one for Christmas) served with chunky chips.
We ended with a fittingly seasonal finale – Autumnal, a strong bitter with a copper hue which accompanied a sausage made from chicken and cranberries served with spicy sautéed tender stem broccoli, chilli and garlic.
It was a privilege for us to welcome such dedicated local producers as Dave and his wife Ruth and Ken and his fellow butchers. What shone through was their genuine passion and commitment to producing top-quality products using time-honoured methods and a great deal of skill.
We are looking forward to holding more of these tasting events throughout 2016, so do sign up for our enews if you would like to be first to hear.