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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Man V #BrewBurger

Burger condiments

The idea, apparently, was "to get as much beer in a burger as we possibly could."

"Ah, well, I like to chuck a bottle of beer into my burger mix," I smile.

Tom from Honest Burger looks at me oddly. "No, we don't actually put it in the burger itself. The beef is the main ingredient. It has to shine. We don't want to smother it."

Oh. This is more complicated than I thought.

Fair enough though: the meat for the burger is 35-day dry-aged beef sourced from The Ginger Pig, possibly the most adored meat supplier to the self-conscious London foodie. The only thing added to the meat itself is a light seasoning. My own preferred way of making burgers - buy whatever mince they have in Sainsburys round the corner, squidge it all up with salt, pepper, onion, beer, grain mustard and a bit of coriander or parlsey before chucking it on the barbie - suddenly seems crude and naive. 

This branch of Honest Burger, yet another new burger chain, is in King's Cross, and has been open about six weeks. "Oh, you're the beer blogger," says the person on the door when I give my name. I'm shown downstairs where a few people from BrewDog welcome me and get me a beer, and I slide into a booth constructed from bare wooden planks. 

London has been deluged by new burger 'concepts' over the last couple of years, and my 'hipster twat' alarm is on a hair trigger, ready to go off. 

The theory is sound: southern US cuisine is a perfect foil for craft beer, two complementary flavour suites just waiting to be fit together.

But Britain has a habit of appropriating brilliant concepts and executing them in a humdrum way. Last autumn I went to a 'street food festival' in Dalston. We paid eight quid to get in (which included a free pint of Meantime beer, but not the Meantime beer I wanted, according to the incredibly bad-tempered servers) then queued for 25 minutes to spend another £9 on a deeply average burger which we ate from wobbly paper plates on creaky benches in a disused factory warmed by open braziers. I fancied that two years previously, tramps had sat in this same spot eating very similar food in identical circumstances. All evening, this was my earworm:


A couple of months earlier, I'd joined Evan Rail, an American beer writer now living in Prague, who had been dispatched to London by the New York Times to review another trendy London burger joint. He's much kinder in the article he wrote than he was on the night, when he said, "Well... it's a burger isn't it?"

So tonight, I'm wary, ready for another 'concept' that promises everything and delivers only salt, fat and deflated guilt. I'm here for the #BrewBurger, a collaboration with BrewDog that allegedly contains so much beer you need to be ID'd as over 18 before you're allowed to eat it. I'm sceptical about this, as most of the alcohol surely burns off. I'm doubly sceptical when introduced to Tom and his business partner. They barely look old enough to get served in a pub themselves, let alone run one of London's most talked about new burger chains. Exactly half an hour after the appointed start time, the room fills instantly with fresh-faced hipsters and the burgers start coming out.

So if there's no beer in the burger itself, where does all the booze go? Well, the beef dripping in which the onions are cooked has been slathered with Punk IPA. The bacon has been marinated in 5AM Saint and brown sugar. And the barbecue sauce has been infused with the mighty Arran whisky barrel aged Paradox.  

With a billing like that, I decide to take a little more care with my burger than I normally would. 

Firstly, the appearance: the style of presentation could be summed up as 'Fuck you, Masterchef.' This is dirty and, yes, honest food. 

Detox buster.

It smells wonderful, complete in a way I've never thought about in relation to a burger before. It's all about balance, with sweet and sour, umame and caramel, strong yet surprisingly graceful.

The bacon on its own is so phenomenal you could be forgiven for forgetting the burger and asking for a bacon buttie instead. If it were possible for a flavour to transport you to a high ridge at a flaming Montana sunset to watch cowboys herd steers across the prairie, only you're sitting on the balcony of a Parisian Michelin starred restaurant at the top of that ridge, then this bacon would do it.

Onto the main event, and the burger is simply the best one I can remember tasting. You can taste the beef, and I realise how rarely beef tastes of beef, and that good beef tastes of a happy life.

When I get to the middle of the burger, all these elements finally come together - the onions and the bacon and the barbecue sauce - and suddenly the hype doesn't sound like hype any more. There's definitely booze here, spiritous and risky. Am I just imagining I can taste the barrel ageing of the Paradox through all those layers of barbecue sauce in the middle of everything else that's going on? I'm not sure.

If that's not enough alcoholic complexity, the burger has been paired with a fourth BrewDog beer, the newly released Bourbon Baby. It's been aged in Bourbon barrels - something that conventional craft brewing wisdom says only works for strong, dark porters and stouts, not a 5.8%ABV Scotch ale like this.

I tried this beer fresh off the bottling line just yesterday, 500 miles north of here in BrewDog's new brewery. Those bottles were then couriered down here and crash-chilled. This beer cannot possibly be on its best form.

And initially, the beer is less than the sum of its parts. It's doing what a beer does, being all cold and refreshing and helping out with a bit of palate cleansing action. Despite the temperature there's a big hit of chocolate and bourbon, but it becomes less interesting in the face of the onslaught of flavour the #BrewBurger is packing. And then, the retronasal action kicks in. Despite the trauma it's endured over the last day or so, the beer comes out punching, sneaks around the back of the palate and pulls in that boozy spiritousness, completing a whole chain of flavour elements and making them sing harmonies. Bourbon Baby is a very good beer, even this cold, even this agitated, even up against this burger. And there you are: dirty food and dirty beer together playing magic on your palate like an idiot savant virtuoso pianist made out of chopped beef and malted barley. Yet another BrewDog idea that sounds like it might be trying a bit too hard on paper, but makes perfect, stunning sense when delivered.

Last time I ate at McDonalds - which was more recently than I care to admit - I remember using the last of the fries to scrape up the dregs of salt and sauce. Even as the compacted aggregate of the food slumped heavily in my stomach, my palate was unsatisfied, overstimulated and seeking closure. With #BrewBurger the fries, nice as they are, are superfluous. The burger and beer together a complete meal without anything else, battering your palate into delighted submission.

I always feel guilty about eating burgers. They are not good for you. This meal is not a healthy meal, and doesn't pretend to be. I resolve that from now on a burger has to be this good for it to be worth the damage.

1 comment:

neil, eatingisntcheating.co.uk said...

BrewDog really are doing a lot of courting these days aren't they? ;-)

Sounds like a good burger though, I love Honest. Always reliable and good value to boot.