There’s been heated debate about the news and now arrival that Goose Island was opening their very first bar in the UK down in Balham. Balham’s an interesting place to find yourself in if you haven’t been fortunate to visit this part of London. It’s a nice mix of west-meets-south-meets-east London vibe. The area have one of my favourite brunch joints – Milk – plus a whole other selection of brunch places I haven’t had to bother with just yet, all in the same strip. An added bonus is the small We Brought Beers outlet, which might be one of the very few places you could score interesting beers in the area.
Much of the recent conversation has been about whether Greater London (let alone Balham) is ready for a bar focusing much of their efforts on their Belgium influenced and farmhouse range. I’m not yet a fully fledged beer geek so I come at this from another angle and agree in part. I actively push my friends and this audience towards craft beer. For those just willing to dabble, it’s sometimes a struggle to move them from a basic pale ale up to an entry level IPA. For most, they react like they’re back being 5 years old trying their first oyster. Let alone getting them to sip on a bigger IPA, farmhouse ale, sour or gose. And that’s just the men. I’m not being sexist but there’s very few females willing to move off wine and try beer, let alone something with taste – let alone parting with cash to go gose. But that hasn’t put a dampener on the Goose Island team going all-in in Balham.
I was lucky enough to check out their launch beer dinner which was attended by Goose Island founder John Hall and president Ken Stout. Probably a once in a lifetime chance and a lucky break for someone just starting to report on the London craft beer scene. What was also the holy trifecta was they were serving the food you can find in the bar every day plus the small batch Belgium inspired sours that I had yet to try.
The evening kicked off with chats around the bar and Sofie (Goose Island’s Belgium style farmhouse ale) mimosas which went down surprisingly easily.
Firstly I tried not to fill myself up with the Vintage Ale House Platter dripping with British cured meats and cheeses knowing there were six more courses to follow.
Smoked short rib and blue cheese croquettes with black squid ink aioli matched with seasonal Winter Ale. These were chock full of flavour and incredibly rich. Luckily the small addition of the blue cheese and the aioli balanced it out perfectly. The winter ale has an interesting story behind it.
The brewmaster at the time wagon vacation and left very distinct directions to the brewing staff to complete an Dunkelweizen he was trying to replicate. He produced the wort before he left and the brewers who he left in charge accidentally pitched an English yeast strain so it came out as this brown ale that he wasn’t expecting. But it tasted really, really nice and has become one of Goose Island’s seasonal beers.
Cod Fregola with roasted cod, Sicilian fregola, cockles and langoustine paired with Sofie. The Goose Island team use Belgium strains in their yeast to finish the beer. This Sofie (named after the owner’s granddaughter) is made using a Belgium farmhouse yeast and finished in the barrel.
Compared to regular beer you’ll find this is a nice dry beer with less residual sugar due to the yeast strains being able to devour any sugar it may be able to find. This is certainly an elegant beer and may be able to entice wine drinkers over to the beer side.
Porter and Molasses glazed beef cheeks with smoked cannelloni beans, rainbow chard and pickled shallots paired with Matilda. This dish came with the use of a dark beer (from Belleville Brewery in Balham) with heavily caramelised notes. Matilda is a 7% Belgium style pale ale inspired by Trappist monks and made with mild yeast strains.
The beer finds common notes with the cannelloni beans being quite earthy going well with the wild yeast in the Matilda. There’s also a nice cultured fruit note in the beer that works along side the beef cheeks. The herbaceousness in the beer is the perfect complement to the tomato and basil sauce used in the base of the dish. The beer is really paired to be a counterpoint to the molasses on the beef to refresh the palette with that rich roastedness purveying the dish. A very good match.
On Saturdays and Sundays, Goose Island Ale House do a brunch menu so this was a great chance to sample an alternative should the Milk Cafe line be way too long for your liking. Buttermilk pancakes with house cured bacon and maple syrup paired with Goose Island IPA. The bacon is cured in treacle and comes with a large pot of maple syrup plus maple cream to smear before each mouthful. The Goose Island IPA is their flagship beer and one I head to over all their other range you can get on tap. It’s not the easiest beer to pair with food because it has such a strong hop level and higher bitterness compared to other beers.
This strong American hop profile is nice and resinous with some nice fruity notes. The salty and sweetness of this dish provided a great pairing with the contrasting flavours from the hop bitterness in the IPA – so much so that it completely changed the flavour of the beer and stripped out all the hoppiness. These were both aligned in terms of intensity so were a perfect match.
Manuka honey & goat’s milk panna cotta with ginger honeycomb paired with Halia. Goat’s milk is a little more acidic that cow’s milk. The idea behind matching this with the Haila is the heightened acidity of the Halia cuts through the sweetness of in particular the honeycomb and the honey in the panna cotta. This pairing works best if you have a mouthful of the panna cotta with the honeycomb and taking a swig of the beer immediately after.
The acidity cut through the fat and sugar perfectly. As it’s so sweet it kills some of the acidity I found in the beer that I tried before the dish arrived. It also then spend up with some hidden peachy-fruitiness and accentuates the peachiness in your mouth. So basically a great marriage for a sly peaches and cream. This pairing knocked the socks off the owner of Goose Island who I was lucky enough to be sitting next to.
Petit fours of Bourbon County Stout, chocolate and coffee truffles paired with their much hyped 2014 Bourbon County Coffee Stout. Hype you say? As a beer it starts life out as an 11% imperial stout – so a very strong and rich stout with tonnes of roasted flavours and molasses notes! It then gets aged for a year in wet bourbon barrels (emptied of bourbon but not dried so there’s some residual spirits remaining when the beer goes in.
The really warm summers and really cold winters in Chicago, the oak in the barrel contracts and expands which takes in the beer and squeezes out the whisky – so you get an awful lot of flavour that distilling it in fresh barrels or tanks. All this ensures that when the beer is ready, it’s mixed and mellowed and there’s incredibly complex and layered dimension to the beer. The end product has touches of dried fruit, molasses (there’s a word I see being used on this site more often after it’s frequency on this post), cocoa, coffee beans and liquorice notes. then you’re going to find a good twist of the bourbon from the oak.
Overall it you want to up your craft beer skill levels then this new pub/bar in Balham is a worthwhile trip to make in the next few weeks. The staff are knowledgable, the food is pitched in the right manner and should you like the small batch beers they also do take away sales so you can enjoy them at home.
Here’s that article that I referenced above: http://beerinsider.com/new-vintage-ale-house-pushes-beer-boundaries-in-balham/
Contact: Goose Island Vintage Ale House – 3 Ramadan Road, Balham SW12 8QY.