Tries in vain to love craft beers
n another life, I worked for a summer as a barman in north London. The pub had a strong criminal element, and hold-ups at gunpoint were not infrequent. The gangsters’ wives and girlfriends tended to drink a glass of port and brandy, while the gangsters themselves consumed a bewildering array of lagers, lager tops (lager with a dash of lemonade) and pale ales.
I was recently reminded of that summer when I began my long-delayed exploration of Irish craft beers. To begin, I popped into the always excellent Blackrock Cellar in the Dublin suburb of the same name and asked for two recommendations. The first was an India pale Ale called Scraggy Bay, which is from Kinnegar, and the second was Connemara Red Ale from the Irish-speaking Independent Brewing Company of Ireland. Neither was cheap at more than €3 a bottle, but I was in an optimistic mood as I cycled home.
I don’t honestly know how to describe Scraggy Bay. It probably is an excellent India pale ale, but if one doesn’t like India pale ale (and I suspect most Irish people don’t), then that is an insurmountable problem. The drink is just a well-made pale ale in a nice bottle. It’s like 18thCentury French furniture; you can admire the craftsmanship, but it is difficult to enjoy it as an aesthetic experience if one does not come from the culture.
The Galway-made Connemara Red Ale was recommended as something resembling Smithwick’s, but it did not reach those lofty heights and, as I drank it, I kept wishing it was indeed a Smithwick’s.
This must be a perennial problem for craft beers. It is somehow difficult to enjoy a taste slightly different to what one is expecting. Too often, the new taste can seem off-key rather than original. If that all seems a bit ridiculous, I agree. My moaning is like a manifesto for never changing, which is clearly absurd. I shall stick with the craft beers for a few weeks and see whether they are like alcohol itself. Difficult to like initially, and then sublime.
Preheat the oven to 200°C, 400°F, Gas 6. Cut the squash in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds. Put the two squash halves, flesh-side up, in an oven dish, and season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and the chilli flakes. Bake for 45 minutes, or until tender, then cut the cooked squash into chunks. Put the kale, the olive oil and the lemon juice in a bowl, and massage the kale for about five minutes until the ingredients are well combined and the kale is brighter in colour. Put the tahini and the crushed garlic in a small bowl, season with some salt, and gradually add the water, whisking as you go until
the mixture has the consistency of pouring cream. Add this mixture to the bowl with the massaged kale and toss to coat the kale thoroughly. Divide the dressed kale between two large bowls and add the chunks of roast squash. Fill a medium-sized pot with boiling water, add the white wine vinegar and
bring to the boil. Reduce the heat slightly, swirl the water with a slotted spoon and then carefully crack in the four eggs. Allow them to cook for 3-4 minutes or until they are done to your liking. To check them, lift them out with the slotted spoon after a couple of minutes and gently prod the yolk. Place the
poached eggs on top of the dressed kale and roast squash and serve.