Food & Drink’s special correspondent Sean Bagnall explores the boozy delights of Cowbridge
“Cowbridge Food Festival”. To a native of the middle of England (like myself) this festival is hardly as famous as the likes of Glastonbury, but being a food loving, aspiring amateur food writer, it was only right that I visited this charming little town to see what it had to offer. My mission though, was not to look at the wonders and delights of fresh Welsh gourmet foods. No, my mission (as instructed by my Quench editors) was to drink. I wasn’t about to complain.
To try and paint a picture, it seemed like the entire village lived for this weekend. Even the thunder, gusts and slightly-too-heavy-rain wasn’t enough to dampen its spirit (pardon the pun). Stepping into the main food area was like stepping into a savoury Willy Wonka factory- just replace the oompa lumpas with passionate fine food lovers, all of which oozed friendliness and impressive expert knowledge. A warming atmosphere.
Like a true soldier, I kept my eye on my mission objective and made sure to try out as many drink stands as I could. If you fancied a lengthy drink- real ale was in abundance. Perry and scrumpy cider stands stood at the ready to fill your pint glass. A pint of Norman cider from the “Gwatkin Cider” stand felt like a (very well tasting) time capsule in a glass. Alternatively, one could take an aperitif-like beverage, such as damson gin from the “Tipsy Fruit Gins Ltd” or blackcurrant brandies and a framboise from the award winning “British Cassis”- an alcoholic fruit mixer company. There were of course fine wine stands and even a champagne lounge (que jazz music). I’m also pleased to say I broke both my elderflower wine and spiced mead virginity (both delicious). At 21, I thought it was about time…
It would be naïve to think the only drink one could find at Cowbridge this weekend had a percentage value on its back label. Plenty of stands sold quality tea and coffee, including all the extras. The flavoured coffee syrup shots were of particular interest to me, but in honesty almost every stand had me hooked. There was so much to see and try and nibble and sip, I just wished my wallet was a little deeper! And despite everything I was experiencing and learning, my main interest of the day was still unanswered…
Leading up to the festival, I read on the “campaign for real ale” website how ales can be paired with food, in a similar way to wine. There seems to be a buzz in modern cuisine, where the Great British Pub, and the quality beers with it, is becoming trendy and appreciated once again. On such ale stand, Tudor Brewery from Abergavenny, fronted by managing director Jaime C. Devine lured me in with their impressive array of real ales. I was given an insight into how real ales can work with great dishes and we later discussed via email how British ales are becoming a fashionable, quintessential part of modern British cuisine.
Q Can real ales be paired with food/dishes?
A “We have seen first-hand how the number of high end restaurants, bistros and other eateries have embraced this emerging culture and not only use ales as a flavouring in their creations, but as an accompaniment to the courses being served. Just like wine, different blends lend themselves to different dishes. In my own experience, there is nothing better than a fully hopped real ale, with a crisp, fresh and citrus undercurrent alongside a piece of white fish.
Ok, so what are the rules of thumb?
A “For beer connoisseurs, the rules of thumb are similar to those of wine drinkers. The hoppier the ale, the livelier the dish should be, so the flavours of the food are not drowned out by the taste of the ales. For red meat dishes, look to the maltier, toffee mouthed beers, usually stronger in ABV, which can hold their own against the earthy tastes of dark meats. This is nothing new; you have heard of steak and ale pie, I am sure.
Could you give me an example of how one of your ales compliments a dish?
A We use our own Blorenge Pale Golden Ale for curries and spicier food as it cleanses the pallet, whilst complementing the ingredients on the plate!
So it seems we could be at the early stages of a beer renaissance! I was completely taken by this idea and ended the day by spending my final pennies on a few bottles of Tudor Brewery’s own Skyrrid beer- a fantastically hoppy, dark ale, full of flavour, which I enjoyed with a slab of Snowdonia mature cheddar. A match made in heaven. Welsh food and drink at its finest, found in the small, but charming and totally impressive Cowbridge Food Festival. Mission accomplished.