Poppies Pale Ale: Five Points perfectly paired with fish n' chips

It’s been a busy few months for The Five Points Brewing Company with the release of their Field Day Citrus Pale and their acquisition of the adjacent arch at their Hackney Downs site. Despite this, they’ve made time to collaborate with Poppies, London fish and chips stalwart, on a beer brewed to perfectly complement the nation’s most iconic dish.

Poppies Pale Ale is launching today, on National Fish and Chips Day, and will be available at all Poppies sites across the city.

Poppies Soho London

Most Londoners will know Poppies because of its venerated fish and chips. In a city where such a classic and simple dish can go so wrong, Poppies is always a safe bet. It’s down to their legacy and attention to quality; the fish used is delivered straight from Billingsgate market and is filleted in-house by skilled staff. They’ve been serving up great food since 1952, when Pat ‘Pop’ Newland founded the Spitalfields site. He was the real deal: a born and bred East Londoner who began working on a fish and chips stall on Roman Road Market at the tender age of 11.

Although Poppies has been around for over half a century, their ethos is modern and all of their fish is sustainable. Their partnership with Five Points intrinsically fits too; here are two companies firmly rooted in East London and have similar local focus. As you’d expect from the brewery, Five Points didn’t take this challenge flippantly – Poppies Pale Ale was meticulously devised and brewed to ensure that it was the superlative companion to Poppies’ specialty dish, from complementing the crispy batter to cutting through the hot, stodgy chips.

Beer and food matching is something that’s increasing in popularity, as the growing number of pairing events hosted by breweries around London demonstrates. But do we really need a curated beer to accompany our cheeky hit of fish and chips? Well, Poppies Pale Ale stands on its own as a highly drinkable pale. In accordance with the local focus of Poppies, the beer uses only British malts and hops, which gives it bitterness to cut through fatty foods, but has enough zesty citrus in the body to balance this and make it intensely refreshing on its own.

Five Points Poppies Pale Ale

A lot of care has gone into getting the recipe just right, from the involvement of beer sommeliers from drinks agency Boutique Bar Brands to having the Poppies team give their feedback. This is the first time Five Points have worked with a restaurant to brew a bespoke beer and, based on the reactions of the team, they seem delighted with the result. So here we have a beer that stands on its own as a worthy choice, but also tastes exceptional when fish and chips are added to the equation. If it comes down to savouring a beer solo, or over a box of steaming chips and flaky battered fish, I know what I’d choose, though.

The beer will be unveiled across all Poppies locations – that’s in Spitalfields, Soho and Camden – from today.

Thank you to the team at Five Points for inviting me along to a preview tasting of Poppies Pale Ale.

Truman's RAW Lager has landed at The Eagle

Beer and food pairing soirées are becoming increasingly popular in London, demonstrating the versatility of beer and its ability to not just complement, but elevate, a dish. More craft breweries are adding curated food and beer evenings to their events calendar, usually collaborating with a renowned chef or an established restaurant. 

Every style of beer boasts unique characteristics based on its recipe. Malts can be pale, roasted, or blended to create a fuller mouthfeel; yeast can impart notes of banana, spices and bubble gum (as seen in Belgian styles), or can be completely neutral. The hops play a crucial role in lending bitterness and aroma, which can range from the bursting tropical notes in antipodean hops to big hits of grapefruit and resinous pine present in US varieties. Some styles can be brewed without treating water – alkaline levels should be monitored for clean, pale styles, but untreated water can be used in richer dark beers, such as stouts and porters.

Each ingredient used in brewing therefore plays an integral role to taste, aromas and appearance. So it’s not surprising that chefs are recognising the pairing potential of beer and dishes to showcase the former's unique properties. It presents a whole new challenge to enlighten and surprise diners.

The coupling of beer and food can work very well, but there’s an element of execution that must be adhered to: mostly a well-trained palate to pair options with each course – even the vegetarian options, as what works with a beef tartare will likely not come together well with garlic mushrooms – and the timing is crucial. Thought must be given to serving temperature, as some of the beer's flavours mature or mellow out as it warms up. If pouring straight from the tap, the beer might need to sit for a few moments before all of its qualities fully develop.

The Eagle Pub in Ladbroke Grove

Interestingly, pubs are now not just offering beer matching with their food, but are now creating menus entirely inspired by the beer. This is the approach taken at The Eagle in Ladbroke Grove, who reached out to East London’s Truman’s Brewery to produce RAW Lager, a kolsch-style beer served from a tank, transferred directly from the brewery. Unfiltered, unpasteurised, the beer arrives to the pub within two hours of leaving Hackney Wick, where it's served fresh to customers. It's comparable to drinking straight from the brewery’s fermenter tanks. The lager is clean as a pin and intensely drinkable, unadulterated by exposure to light or added gas, lacking any metallic bitterness that you often find in generic lagers.

This tank beer concept is not new to the UK. Drinkers have been enjoying drinking Pilsner Urquell straight from large copper tanks at Draft Houses around the city since 2014. Even Meantime Brewery have a Brewery Fresh London Lager, where punters can enjoy beer that's been dispensed directly into tanks in selected venues. But Truman's claim that unlike these big breweries, they can categorically guarantee that all of their tank beer is being brewed in London and believe to be the first London brewery to offer this in pubs.

The Eagle was recently acquired and renovated by Hippo Inns and has only been open to the public for a few weeks. Appropriately, the pub was historically a Truman’s pub – back when the original brewery was in operation (it was sold off in 1989). It’s modern and spacious, with an impressive event space upstairs. It’s been readily embraced by locals and the RAW lager has proved popular: there's been some nail biting moments when only a few pints were left in the tank and shipments were en route. The beers are predominately from Truman’s range on keg and cask, but there are two rotating lines reserved for other craft breweries.

Stan Perry Truman's Eagle Pub

Their menu is Bavarian inspired – another push by the pub to do something a little quirky – and their head chef is Stan Perry, formerly of Soho House, who has designed a menu around Truman’s beers. Meats are basted in Truman’s, their bitter is incorporated into a bone marrow pie and ale is used in the batter for fish and chips. Each of the ingredients have also been specially selected to complement the flavour profiles of a particular beer.

The Zephyr, a hoppy pale ale served in cask, was paired with fattier foods, such as the crispy knuckle of pork. The Gypsy Queen, a seasonal oatmeal pale on cask, favoured the dressed Dorset crab with saffron aioli. It worked well with fish across the board, including the zesty pickled herring to start, while the Zephyr sang with the richer pork terrine and Gruyere soufflé.

The Eagle Truman's Dorset Crab

The RAW Lager was the perfect palate cleanser, clean and subtle, which also cut through the heartier dishes, including smoked mozzarella macaroni and cheese, chicken schnitzel and a duck’s egg. The food is superb and the Bavarian twist means that the dishes have the bready, rich qualities that favour a clean-drinking pint.

The deserts were equally as delicious, including a decadent banoffee pancake and chocolate fondant. Both paired well with Truman's Runner, a Best Bitter with nuances of roasted malts and caramel: it matched the chewy toffee notes in the former and the intense richness of the latter. A velvety stout might have also done the trick – especially with the fondant.

Food and beer pairing is a great concept and introduction to presenting beer as a complex drink that merits further appreciation in the culinary world. These events tend to attract foodies and beer drinkers alike, but The Eagle have painstakingly ensured that their menu - and the quality of their offerings - match the calibre of the beer. By taking inspiration from beer's nuanced characteristics, this is just another step towards making it a more accessible and versatile drink for all.

This partnership between Truman's and The Eagle impresses on both the beer and the food front. Hopefully we will see RAW Lager available fresh from more local East London outlets soon, however, because if a full three course lavish meal isn't your thing, a pint of beautifully fresh lager can never be topped.

I was invited to The Eagle to sample the menu and beer by Truman's, but this is no way has influenced my enthusiasm for food and beer pairing.

 

       

Beer & food pairing: keeping things simple

You’ve probably already noticed, but beer and food pairing events are very much on trend. As far as routine brewery events go, pairing nights are catching up with the abundance of tap takeovers held in pubs across London, which easily amount to several on any given week. Whether it’s a lavish five course meal with drinks curated by a Cicerone-qualified expert, or a more modest monthly beer and cheese night, beer drinkers are discovering how hops, malts and yeast can harmonise with the ingredients used in a dish. Both beer and food recipes can be dissected into a list of individual components, each imparting a distinct flavour. There’s a wide scope for these to play off each other – the trick is finding the perfect pairing.

Demonstrated at the Darker Days III event held at The Duke’s Head at the beginning of the month, Ghanaian food was matched with some surprising contrasts – from barley wine to imperial stouts – and British beer was married with a cuisine influenced by warm climate and some ingredients that aren't indigenous to these shores. Despite being a world apart, the drinks and dishes came together in unison. Warming spices in the barley wine were mirrored in plantain bites, chicken encased within a malt-based batter hummed with the chewy notes of a brown ale and a chocolate brownie was matched with a silky, rich imperial stout.

Some of these flavour combinations are elementary and classic - chocolate will always marry well with a rich, chocolatey stout, for instance. And spicy foods will always call for something clean, like the crispness or a pilsner or an easily downed lager. These innocuous pairing rules aren’t controversial or deemed acquired tastes; slowly people seem to be coming around to the notion that exemplary food can be safely complemented with beer. Despite this, It will undoubtedly be some time before we’re met with anything but a wine menu in an upmarket restaurant. But there are rumblings afoot.

Beer aficionados might curtail red and white wines with confidence and ease, flipping to the back of a hefty drinks menu to see what beers are featured. A recent trip to The Ginger Pig in Brighton saw us doing just that, opting for a balance of local beers from Dark Star Brewing and Gun Brewery in addition to a bottle of wine to accompany an extravagant three course meal. For our mains, we stuck with wine, but in retrospect, the ribeye steak with its creamed shallot and red wine sauce could have withstood a malty red or brown ale, given the depth of the jus. The roast skate wing, a fish dish that would traditionally call for a crisp white, could have equally paired with a pilsner, where there’s little risk of hops dominating the palate and detracting from the lightness of the dish.

Last week, International Izakaya, a food and beer pairing evening, was held in Shoreditch. It was aimed at those in the restaurant industry, foodies and writers. It promoted the beer/food matching concept, emphasising that it applies even with more refined cuisine. For the occasion, four London chefs, including Elizabeth Allen, former head chef at Michelin-starred Pidgin, served up a menu that comprised ‘beer bouches’ and several courses. Each dished was served alongside a selection from a Ciceron-qualified beer sommelier. The beers were rare, including the Halia and Bourbon County Stout from Goose Island’s vintage ales range and Birra del borgo’s L’Equilibrista, a wild sour with pronounced wine characteristics from an Italian brewery. The food was as extravagant as the beers. All was on point, but the simple enjoyment of the marriage between food and drink was lost in the grandiose offerings of the occasion.

A more bare-bones and achievable attempt can be replicated at home. We held a dinner party with friends on the weekend, with homemade tandoori chicken, potato saak with raita, poppadums and coconut rice on the menu. Although the temptation of going against the grain - and what was coherent to my palate - with something smouldering to match the tandoori flavours or perhaps something with an acerbic edge to cut through the spices, it was still a pilsner, the Five Points Brewing Co’s Pils, and the Lightbulb Extra Pale Ale from Verdant Brewing Co that were the clear frontrunners. But maybe that's the trick: not to over-egg things.

Like our meals, which don't need to be convoluted to be delicious, sometimes simplicity is best. But the quality of a beer still makes a difference - other macro brewery pilsners were sampled, but lacked flavour profiles that were pronounced enough to stand up against a fiery tandoori main. While open to the unexpected, there's no denying that a solid pilsner or lager can still enhance a meal, but, like experimenting with styles of beer, there's still room for defying our senses. Suddenly a rich porter with a steak might just make sense.

I was invited to Word of Mouth's International Izakaya beer and food pairing meal at the Hill & Szrok Public House as a guest.