Beer made out of Christmas trees? Booze and witchcraft? All in a day’s work for author, sommelier and School of Booze founder Jane Peyton. We caught up with Jane this week to hear all about her work spotlighting British hops; learnt how and why women went from prolific brewers to a beer minority; and were treated to an excerpt from her new book Beer O’Clock.
It Comes In Pints: Your first beer – we’ve been told – was a pint of Tetley Mild. Can you tell us what your top beers are today?
Jane Peyton: It depends on my mood, the weather and reasons for drinking (i.e. quaffing or sipping) but beers I go back to again and again are:
- Fuller’s London Porter
- Brewster’s Hop a Doodle Doo
- Thornbridge – Jaipur
- Harviestoun – Ola Dubh
- Elgood’s – Black Dog
- Ilkley Brewery – Mary Jane
ICIP: Have you found your tastes have changed over time?
JP: Yes – I really like sour beers – gueuze and Red Flander ale such a Duchesse de Bourgogne. When I was younger I was not keen. I also like big fruity barley wines, whereas 10 years ago I was not a fan.
ICIP: You have worked on some collaboration brews, most notably with Brewsters, Fuller’s, Ilkley Brewery. How did you make the jump from drinking beer to brewing it?
JP: There has been a trend for the past few years of some breweries inviting beer writers/sommeliers to collaborate/co-create brews. It’s great fun for the non-pros and hopefully fun for the breweries too. It brings in new ideas to a brewery for brews or ingredients that the brewer might not otherwise have thought of. I’ve been lucky enough to have been invited to collaborate on brews with several breweries from giants such as Fuller’s, smaller operations such as Brewster’s and Ilkley Brewery, and brew pubs such as Brewhouse & Kitchen in Portsmouth. And it is so fascinating for a beer lover to have chance to experience up close the magic that goes into creating their favourite drink.
ICIP: Beer O’Clock, the beer brewed for the release of your new book of the same name, was a green-hopped beer, which is quite a rare style due to the short-time frame available to use the fresh hops. What made you decide to go for this type of beer for the launch of the book? Does it have special significance for you?
JP: I brewed the beer with Sara Barton, owner of Brewster’s and current British Brewer of the Year. I wanted to create a delicious golden coloured session beer that showcased how amazing English hops are. I wanted the beer to have a single varietal hop in it so drinkers could think: “wow – one single hop can do all this for aroma, flavour and bitterness.” (Most British beers have between 2 and 4 different varietals of hops in them).
This meant finding a really significant hop.
I had other requirements of the hop too – I wanted it to have been developed by Dr Peter Darby, the world’s leading hop breeder (he is an Englishman based in Kent), for it to be grown on Stocks Farm in Worcestershire – this farm is owned by Ali Capper and her husband. Ali’s farm grows enough hops each year to make 45 million pints of beer. Ali is the publicity manager for the British Hop Association and is a great ambassador for the beauty of British hops.
And finally, to make it even more tricky in finding the perfect hop, I wanted to use green hops. This means that the hop is harvested the day before brew day and shipped overnight from the farm to the brewery where the hops must be used within hours otherwise they start going mildewy, ie. the hops are fresh rather than dried as most hops are. Green hops can only be used at harvest time, and hops ripen at different rates and at different times so the logistics of getting the hops is not easy. The hop we used for Beer O’Clock was ‘First Gold’ and it ticked all the boxes of my criteria. First Gold is also the world’s first hedgerow hop so it is more sustainable to grow as it is more resistant to hop disease and needs less spraying. It is a spectacular hop in aroma and flavour and I was so pleased with how the beer turned out. That is all down the brilliance of Sara Barton.
ICIP: Are you planning any other collaborations in future? Are there any ideas or particular types of beer you want to experiment with?
JP: I will be doing a collaboration with Ilkley Brewery in January. We have not decided what style yet but I have a few ideas. The last brew I did with Ilkley Brewery is called The Norseman and contains Christmas trees. It was just awarded Champion Beer of Otley Brewery (Yorkshire) and is now part of the main range of Ilkley Brewery’s beers.
I will also be brewing again soon at Brewster’s but have not decided what to do yet. The season will influence what style we brew as mainstream drinkers’ tastes tend to move with the weather – i.e. darker heavier beers in winter and lighter hoppier brews in warmer weather.
ICIP: As an historic booze expert you cover the cultural history of a range of drinks other than beer (and discuss them at length in your book School of Booze) – is beer your top tipple? Does its history interest you in particular?
JP: Yes, beer is my passion. I really like sparkling wine too but if I only had one choice of booze it would be beer. Beer also has the most significance to early human development and history than any other alcoholic drink. Its history is very colourful. Throughout history beer was a drink for everyone – whereas until recently, wine was for high status people. Consequently there are much more interesting stories about beer history than there are about wine history, or the history of any other alcoholic drink. Beer and wine (and mead) are the alcoholic drinks that have been drunk for longer than any other booze.
ICIP: We’ve read numerous articles and interviews where you describe the connections between ale-wives and witchcraft. Why do you think women have gone from being so prominent (70 per cent of brewers!) in brewing to barely being associated with even drinking beer over just a few hundred years?
JP: In England this was to do with the fact that beer was originally made at home by women. Surplus ale would be sold to people who did not brew at home. After the Black Death the demand for beer increased because labourers could get higher wages. They wanted to spend their extra money on ale. Around the same time England started fighting wars overseas. Soldiers received eight pints a day as their ration. This meant that a regular and secure supply of ale/beer was essential. Women brewing at home could not brew enough beer. From then on beer was made in bulk in breweries. Women generally did not work outside the home, they could not get credit from moneylenders to build breweries, and they could not own their own property (it belonged to their husbands). This, and the fact that beer became a lucrative industry that men wanted to get in on sidelined women as the primary brewers.
See here for an article I wrote for Stylist online about the link between witchcraft and female brewers.
ICIP: As a beer sommelier you know a lot about beer and food matching – can you explain some of the basic principles of pairing food and beer for a novice?
JP: Here is an excerpt from Beer o’ Clock to explain some of the guidelines of beer & food matching.
“Why is beer so perfect for matching with food? For flavour and texture but also for the practical fact that beer is up to 95% water so it refreshes the mouth and clears the palate – and that is the number one reason why we have liquid with our food. Beer contains carbon dioxide an efficient palate scrubber which prepares the mouth for the next morsel. Even real ale with no discernible bubbles contains dissolved CO2 which adds a note of invigorating acidity and lightens up the richness of food. Hops contain varying degrees of bitterness and they also act like knives cutting through flavour and texture and both of these properties are refreshing.
When pairing beer with food this is the mantra – Cut, Complement, or Contrast.
Cut: choose a beer that cuts through the flavour or body of the food. For instance fish & chips with a crisp refreshing beer to cut through the fat, and citrus hops to complement the fish.
Complement: choose a beer that will complement the flavours of the food. For instance, spicy food with a beer containing spicy hops.
Contrast: choose a beer that is a complete contrast to the food. For instance big flavoured chocolatey porter or stout with delicate salty oysters.
But rules can be broken and it is fun to experiment to see which beers work with certain dishes.”
ICIP: What beers are on your Christmas list? Are there any beers you can recommend to match with Christmas fare like the turkey dinner, the Xmas pud…?
JP: Lots of beers for Christmas dinner! I would go for a flute of Deus (a French beer made with Champagne yeast) as an aperitif before dinner, a hoppy pale ale for the main course, a big barley wine for mince pies, porter for Christmas pud, or Christmas cake and Stilton cheese, Belgian kriek or Frambozen for trifle. Fuller’s Vintage Ale in a brandy balloon or snifter glass on its own as a digestive.