My Spain…

Back into the swing of things here in London and with Summer finally here, my holiday blues are subsiding. Leaving Spain for me however, is always hard…

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Arcos De La Fronterra is a little Spanish town near Jerez, that I can happily call my second home. If you want to discover typical Andalusian culture then this is a good place to start. It is surrounded by olive groves but towering high above the surprisingly lush landscape are elaborate churches, family run tapas bars and Moorish inspired homes and dwellings built into the rocks. There is a wonderful little vineyard called Bodegas Marascal, right next to Arcos town which is a simple hobby to its owner Marco (& a real treat for those locals who get to taste the wines!) We visited last year and got to see this working vineyard in action, followed by a thorough tasting whilst snacking on cold meats and cheese.

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Just by the reservoir 10 minutes from Arcos is a town called Bornos and this is where I experienced Caraquoles for the first time. ‘Caracoles guisados en caldo’ (snails stewed in broth!) is an apertivo typico for the Province of Cadiz. I spotted the gentleman on the table next to me devouring this peculiar looking delicacy as we sat outside a Tapas bar a couple of weeks ago. My only experience of Snails before now, has been stabbing at big, garlic escargot in piping hot ceramic dishes ‘the French way’. Drinking down the grey liquid then carefully picking at the little caracquoles with my teeth was a new venture. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised and washed down with a chilled glass of Cruz Campo, I can see why this herbacious and well seasoned broth is popular despite its daunting appearance.

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(top tip: avoid the black sack at the base of the snail….!)

On June 23rd, we celebrated Midsummer in honour of San Juan (St. John the Baptist). Led by a group of Spanish friends it was a day of good food and very good wine as well some fantastic ‘Spanglish’ conversation- we were really stuck on the word ‘Host’ and this escalated into a rather hilarious game of language-charades. Needless to say, the Spanish dictionary was coming in handy. At 12am the fireworks started and out came a banquet of sweet treats; traditional Spanish cakes and desserts.

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The sun setting over Arcos de la Fronterra

It is a celebration particularly prominent to some of the coastal towns of Spain (Alicante for instance consider it their most important Fiesta) and they spend their day preparing huge bonfires, which become the focal point of the night when revellers jump over them to “purify and cleanse the soul”. We kept it a little more low key but toasted to the shortest night of year with copious amounts of Cava, whilst releasing lanterns into the sky.

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Cucumber & Mint Salad: Light, fresh salads are essential lunches for scorching hot days

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I take my Cruz Campo with a slice of lemon!

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The train from Jerez to Seville is very simple and well worthwhile. It takes just over an hour and gets you right into Seville about a 15-20 minute walk from the centre. Seville won my heart over the first time I visited on a lone expedition 4 years ago. With very little planning I jumped on a bus from Algerciras on the southern coast (next to Gibraltar) and made a journey with nothing but a map and a camera. I have returned every year since with friends to show them this magical place.

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A visit to the Alcázar is a must when visiting Seville. This Royal Palace, encased by the most enchanting of gardens, is still in use and houses the Spanish Royal Family when they are on trips to the city. Peacocks strut in between cooling water features & ancient foliage whilst tourists stagger around in awe of the Palace’s fine detail, inside and out. Good food and drink isn’t hard to come by down the many cobbled streets surrounding the Alcázar and horse pulled carriages wait patiently at the Cathedral to lead you further afield.

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To really, really experience the true heart & soul of Spanish life however, you must find and witness the passion of its Flamenco. Last year my boyfriend and I were near hypnotised behind the big wooden door of Tablao El Arenal; sweat was flying, heeled boots were clicking and hands were clapping during this deeply emotive performance, that has stayed with me ever since…

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Now, tucked away in the Sierra Morena mountains just outside of Seville, is another little piece of heaven. This year Isaac and I were lucky enough to spend the night in the perfectly rustic ‘Trasierra‘ (owned by Charlotte Scott) which is the ultimate escape.

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We drankRosé by the pool and were treated to a typically Spanish spread for lunch; fresh salads, almond gazpacho, braised sausage & lentils. Homemade cakes & mint tea are served in the afternoon, post siesta and by night, you can enjoy a three course dinner under fairy lit trees in the courtyard of the Cortijo. Sleep was easier here than I have found it to be in years, no doubt the fresh white linen sheets and rare silence of the night had something to do with that. Sounds pretty idyllic doesn’t it…

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The warm breeze is perfumed with Jasmine and around every corner, set against white washed stone are dashes of colour from the lavender and rose bushes. Come here to relax. Be barefoot and carefree. Read. Eat, drink and surrender to this rural way of life.

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There is no doubt that I am truly in love with Spain. The culture, food, drink and hospitality. The weather is glorious and it continues to fill my soul with goodness each and every time I visit. It also beholds many more little secrets and adventures which I can only hope to indulge you in on countless other occasions…

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For more information on Trasierra you can LIKE their Facebook page, check out their website or give them a Tweet @trasierra
http://trasierra.eu/
https://www.facebook.com/trasierra?fref=ts
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Off to Camden Town…”Hell Yes!”

Last Thursday morning, I went down to the Camden Town Brewery for a tour and sampling of all their beers! Pretty great way to start the day….

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A drizzly 5 minute walk from Kentish Town tube station found us winding down the back streets of Camden, closely watching our iphone maps to see which way to turn. It seems strange to imagine a brewery existing in this part of town…aren’t they big, industrial factories, usually along the side of the motorways with great big bellowing chimneys? The only notable recollection I have of a Brewery until this day, was on the journey into Edinburgh Old Town as a child exclaiming “it’s marmite mummy!” every single time the yeasty aromas from Caledonian Brewery wafted into the car. Oh and of course Fuller’s Brewery, whose exterior I am all too familiar with as I tiresomely wait in traffic along side it each time I am heading west out of London…

Turning into the Mews in NW5 however took us by surprise- 7 small units underneath the railway station sees the cosy home of Jasper Cuppaidge’s craft beer brewery.

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There is always a risk with a ‘tour’ that it will be boring, overly informative (resulting in loss of concentration) and potentially body achingly long but to our total delight, breezing down the stairs of the reception area was Christine our guide; a perfectly groomed, energetic and knowledgable asset to the Camden Brewery’s family.

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The 4 brand new tanks outside the brewery are a sign of just how popular this brand is becoming and the ever growing demand for the product. Starting with a home brewing kit, Jasper decided to sell his own beers to customers in his pub The Horseshoe, in Hampstead back in 2010. In just 3 years the company has come to supplying hundred’s of pubs and restaurants across the UK (with a couple of accounts in Europe too).

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The brewery is certainly high-tech and I couldn’t even begin to get my head around the computer programs and terminology written up on big white boards, but the system in place is slick to say the least.

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Christine talked us through the brewing process from start to finish, walking us around the building unit by unit and allowing us to see it all happen ‘live’. We talked about, felt and tasted the different malts used at the brewery, our guide ensuring we were engaged around every corner, albeit it with puckered lips; ever tasted a grain of roasted malt?

The guys working there were just getting on with the job in a cool, laid back fashion as we cautiously stepped over pipes and hoses in our protective eye wear (and of course these were in the form of geek chic glasses- true to the quirky style of the place).

Before moving through to the ‘Fermentation’ stage we are led to a chest fridge that looks no different to a one you might find in some dude’s garage, adorned with skateboard stickers and scribblings. At this point we are given an insight into the world of Hops, the key to the bitterness, flavour and aroma of all beers. Until today I never thought there could be a passion for Hops but how wrong I was! Christine is Passionate about Hops. Opening the chest I imagined some sort of angelic chorus would be released along with a bright heavenly light…and I am sure to a beer connoisseur that would be the case. To the untrained eye however, it was a puff of cold freezer mist and the distinctive hum of a generator, unveiling stacks of plastic bags filled with several varieties ready and waiting for their time to come.

I remember there was a time at my Junior school, when I had to do a pencil drawing of the Hops flower in art class using an example in the middle of the table. I must have drawn at least 5 different angles some lightly coloured in green, some just grey and cone like…but that was the first and only time I had ever inspected or seen this plant ‘in person’.  Today, Christine let us feel these sacred hops with their pungent (and sort of illegal smelling) aromas, whilst we talked about where they were from, the difference between USA and UK hops and lingered on the topic of  the ‘Simcoe’, a unique American hybrid Hops used in their Camden Pale Ale.

I would do the plant and the Brewery an injustice to go into detail myself as there is SO MUCH you can learn, so this tour is the perfect place to further your Humulus lupulus’ education.

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After the Fermentation stage, it was through the final unit- where the bottling and packaging happens. This is where they get the barrels ready to send out to the pubs and restaurants too and so the walls were absolutely lined with their kegs, coloured stickers for each brew determining what goes where.

Whilst we were in they were getting the labels on the USA Hell’s Lager Beer, which is back by popular demand and apparently “better than ever”, so keep your eyes peeled for the red, white and blue!

With the tour finished, our increasing thirst for the stuff was at an all time high so like the pied piper, Christine led us back to the water hole….

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Let the tasting commence!

Beer taps line the white brick tiles in the perfectly minimalist bar set up here. They serve popcorn in an original looking tabletop popcorn machine (a lovely touch) and have couple of independent wines and spirits ready to serve but the main attraction is of course, the beer.
We were all accustomed to the Gentleman’s Wit beer (they add roasted lemons into the brewing process, it is very special!), so we started to work through the other guys on offer and discuss the story behind each one.
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1. Hells Lager; so ready to drink this when the sun decides to come out. This is everything I want a lager to be. Refreshing, crisp and interesting pale lager made with a Pilsner malt (4.6% ABV).

2. Pale Ale (USA);  I went into a restaurant that had this beer not long ago and made the insane decision not to order it because I wasn’t sure if Pale Ale was for me…WRONG. This is delicious. Fruity. More, more, more…American and Hop-heavy using that beloved Simcoe Hop varietal. Can’t wait to get back to the brewery to enjoy this with friends. (4.0% ABV).

3. Jopa (UK Pale Ale); did anyone see the Food Fight Club program on Channel 4 with Jamie Oliver? Well this beer is Jamie’s creation so to speak and literally stands for ‘Jamie Oliver Pale Ale’.  The brewery had to come up with this name to keep it all secret before it aired back in December. The beer is totally British and true to that style of pale ale, had a much more bitter quality than the previous…(a little more on the ABV too at 5.1%).

“Think of it like walking through a forest – spicy and earthy and fragrant and herbal – while listening to a punk rock cover of the National Anthem. That’s the vibe” – Camden Town Brewery

4. Ryeld; a limited release, Rye Mild beer. Definitively nutty on the nose and to the taste, creamy texture and with a low ABV (3.7%) perhaps the perfect lunch break treat!

5. Camden Ink; I would definitely call this a sexy stout. It is dark and mysterious to look at and surprisingly light to drink. Launched in December and is only available on draught for obvious quality purposes (4.4% ABV).

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6. Dopplebock; another limited beer on tap with an ABV soaring above the rest (6.7%!). Glad we tried this last, because tasting on an empty stomach already had us rosy cheeked and smiley. This is Camden’s version of the German Dopplebock classic, which is typically strong and sweet (and apparently first brewed by Friars around the 17th Century & consumed as a ‘liquid bread’). A number of flavours arise and proved popular among the group. I’m sure we’ll be back for more when we don’t have to go straight to work after!!

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Coming soon to Camden Town Brewery…

‘The Growler’

Yes, the name caused me to giggle into my Pale Ale however a growler is ‘a thing’ in the beer world and not just something crude from the Urban Dictionary!

If a refillable, takeaway beer bottle sounds good to you, then lucks in. Camden Town are just about to launch their own Growler beer bottles, which will enable us to pop in for a big helping of their finest and take home to enjoy with friends or all to ourselves (consumed in a sensible fashion of course).

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The growler dates back to the 19th Century and was a mode of transporting beers from one place to another. Apparently the sound of CO2 when the cap was unscrewed similar to a growl, hence the name… 

Further Information…

Booking a tour at the brewery is easy, just click here and choose the date, but get in there quickly because they get booked up a few weeks in advance.

Open 12pm to 11pm Thursday through Saturday, you can pop in for a lunchtime pint or gather after work to enjoy a beer and some street food. The food calendar for March is below so see what takes your fancy and check the website for future updates.

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Follow @CamdenBrewery on twitter

http://www.camdentownbrewery.com