Friday, 4 May 2018

Sausage and mash with Firebird, at the Bean

Yesterday night’s “meet the brewer” session got of to a slow start. There were, I would guess, around 30 of us sitting at a number of specially reserved tables at the Humphrey Bean, when Simon, the pub’s manager announced that the brewer, was going to be a little late. The cause of this delay was said brewer filling his van up with the wrong fuel. One or two jokers in the group came out with the quip, as long as he hasn’t filled the wrong beer into the casks, we would be alright!

We didn’t have too long to wait before Firebird’s Richard Peters arrived, but the delay at least gave us the chance to sample several of the Firebird beers on tap at the Humphrey Bean. The wait also allowed us to enjoy our pre-ordered meal of sausage and mash, which formed part of the admission charge for  the event. Also included was a 25% discount on any of the Firebird beers on tap in the pub that evening.

The beers were, in order of ascending gravity:

Two Horses Pale Ale 3.8%; Heritage Sussex Best 4.0%; Citra Single Hop Ale 4.1%; Mandarin Vit 4.8% and Pale Face APA 5.2%.  I sampled them all over the course of the evening; my favourite being the Pale Face, followed by the Citra.

Richard eventually arrived, and somewhat hurriedly set up his stall. He apologised for being late and informed us that filling petrol into his diesel engine van was the reason for the delay. He’d brought a small P.A. system along with him, but didn’t’ use it (probably because of having to trail power cables across the floor). Instead he went for table to table, telling us about the brewery and how Bill King and him, who were old friends from brewing school, went about setting up Firebird.

I won’t repeat the story, but you can read it in the previous post, should you desire. He did say that  "subtlety", rather than in-your-face aggression, was the philosophy behind Firebird beers, and having sampled some of them yesterday, I think this was an apt description.

Peter had brought with him a number of bottles and cans for the assembled company to sample, but things got a little messy around the table, due to the mêlée of people who made a beeline for the “free” samples. I did manage to taste a very good canned,  Coffee Porter, plus an excellent single-hop beer brewed using Pacific Gem hops from New Zealand.

It was clear from listening to him, that Peter knows his craft, and so he should, given the number of beers he’s spent in the brewing industry, but one particularly valid question cropped up. This was how come most of us had never seen Firebird beers on sale in West Kent, with quite a few of us not having heard of the brewery either.

Peter mentioned the rather crowded nature of the brewing industry, in this part of the world, telling us that Sussex had gone from having just Harvey’s, plus the odd micro, a couple of decades ago, to the situation today where there are nearly 60 breweries in the county. I didn’t comment on that, but  can’t help thinking this number is unsustainable, given a beer market which is shrinking, as are the number of genuine free-houses and other outlets which might stock the beer.

All in all it was a good evening. I enjoyed all the beers I sampled, and I will certainly look out for Firebird Brewing on my travels. It was a good night for socialising as well, as not only was there a good turn-out from the local CAMRA contingent, but I met up with a couple who were customers at our former off-licence. Simon has run several of these evenings at the Humphrey Bean, along with a number of brewery trips, so it is good to see a local Wetherspoon’s manger taking this sort of initiative.

I left just after 10pm, along with a friend. Somewhat unwisely we called in at Fuggles, where the Moor Brewing “tap takeover” was just drawing to an end. We were still in time though to meet Moor Brewing owner Justin Hawke; the introduction being made by Fuggles owner, Alex Greig. The crowds had thinned out by that time, leaving the pub nice and quiet.

I enjoyed a half of  So’ Hop 4.1% , plus a couple of tastings of Moor Fusion, the brewery's celebrated Old Freddy Walker Ale, matured in oak casks (cider and brandy, depending on the year). Justin had brought these down specially, and with a few bottles already opened, Alex generously left them with us to finish off.

I wisely allowed my companion drink the lion’s share of them as, unlike me, he didn’t have to go into work this morning!


Ethelred The Unsteady said...

Why must people serve food, for which plates were designed, in a bowl?

I was recently served a steak like that, as were my dining companions' with their meals. To cut it, one had to come in from above with knife and fork, which meant arms and elbows out horizontally, and at shoulder height. However, we were all closely seated, and so the awkward chaos which ensued is easy to imagine.

Sausage-and-mash might be less of a problem, but I'd still rather have it on a plate.

No, that doesn't have to be a slate either.



Paul Bailey said...

I agree 100% Ethelred. A plate would have been better and far more suitable. It wasn't as though there was that much gravy; certainly not enough to warrant a bowl.

Tim does do a nice line in patterned crockery though!

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Paul - whilst I'm generally in agreement with the plate argument I would make an exception in the case of this dish of bangers and mash.
And it's the peas that are the deciding factor.
With bangers and mash the bangers have to go on top with the mash as a nice base.
But the unpredictable nature of peas on a plate introduces an element of uncertainty.
Which is why on this occasion a bowl is the perfect choice - as with any pasta dish it's all about horses for courses.

PS: The use of Yorkshire Puddings in this dish would change the equation completely and bring me much more into plate territory.

RedNev said...

Firebird beers sound interesting, although I doubt I'll find them here in Merseyside. Firebird - is he a Stravinsky fan?

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

Prof, can I propose a rule-of-thumb?

If you can eat it with fork alone, or with spoon, or with both, (as in pasta), then a bowl is fine.

The moment that a knife is required however, then it's plates, because the horizontal, back-and-forth movement needed to cut just can't be done in one.

(Neither does gravy work very well on a roofing slate, on the other hand.)



Paul Bailey said...

There were actually far too many peas Prof, and unfortunately they were minted ones as well,(not my favourite).

Nev, I also thought of the Stravinsky connection, and did consider referring to the composer's name in the title. I very much doubt you will find them on Merseyside, especially as I've never seen them on sale in this part of the country, where we're only about 50 miles away from Horsham/Rudgwick.

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

Horses for courses? Which course did you have in mind, Prof? Starters or main?

Anyway, I thought that all that was behind us, now that the Yorkshireman, at that abattoir in Todmorden has been nicked?



Anonymous said...

The unspoken joy of blogging is when commenters comment on fringe issues bearing no relation to the main point of your blog (and I mean that without sarcasm !).

So, c. half the (real) beer volumes being drunk compared to 20 years ago, but c.60 more breweries. However good they are, a recipe for failure, as we're seeing with the closure of breweries round the country who are no longer "new" enough.

"Somewhat unwisely we called in at Fuggles" - never a truer word written ! And I mean that in a positive way, of course.

Paul Bailey said...

Martin, I'd almost forgotten what the main point of the post was, until you brought me back to earth with a bang!

Yes, definitely too many breweries chasing a trade which has been shrinking for the last decade or more. It's probably heresy in CAMRA circles to say so, but I thought that back in the early 2000's, when we had our off-license. Even then we were getting inundated withe sales calls from all sorts of small breweries wanting us to take their beer.

It's only when you count breweries up on a county-wide basis, as I did for this article, that you realise just how over-saturated the market is. The trouble is, as the inevitable shake out happens, it's not always the really bad ones who go to the wall first!

ps. I thought it was Shergar, rather than Stravinsky, who came to a sticky end!

Curmudgeon said...

And the problem is that many of them are "hobby brewers" who don't need to make a full-time living out of it, and thus distort the market.

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

So you are saying that brewing is becoming like journalism, broadcasting, acting, and politicianing, then, Mudge? Unthinkable, eh?