beer

Witchy Womens Day

March 8th is International Women’s Day. On March 6th, my favourite local craft beer bar, Hopheads is having a Women’s Day celebration. The event hopes to empower women by bringing together some of the best women brewers and women associated with brewing in the industry. These talented women will be available for a chat and of course there will be plenty of beer tasting! I can’t wait. 🙂

Thinking about women and beer always reminds me of a night I spent in Salem, Massachusetts a few years ago. I enjoyed many local beers in Salem, but it wasn’t until I got home that I learned of a possible connection between witches and brewing.

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It is generally acknowledged that women all around the world have been brewing and selling beer since ancient times. This started to change in Medieval Europe when female brewsters, also known as alewives, were slowly pushed out of the industry. Some theories suggest that men, wanting to take over the profitable industry for themselves, began to associate the tools and activities of brewsters with witches and witchcraft.

A brewster needed a vessel in which to brew beer, such as a large pot or cauldron. A broom or decorated stick was often placed above the door to let people know that beer was ready for sale. When a brewster sold their drink at a local market, they would wear a tall hat so they would stand out in the crowds. Cats were often kept as pets to keep mice away from the grains. Put this all together and you have the classic image of a pointy hatted witch with broomstick, black cat and cauldron! While theories connecting brewing with witches are contentious, they do provide food (and drink!) for thought.

To celebrate the connection between beer, women and witches, and the reemergence of female brewers, I put my witchy hat on and brewed a tasty potion based on a classic “Witch Hunt” cocktail. I played around with the proportions in the recipe to make it Strega dominant (strega is witch in Italian) and replaced the optional lemonade with beer. I had lots of thoughts on a name for this cocktail but finally decided on The Beer Witch Returns.

The Beer Witch Returns

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Ingredients
40ml Strega
20ml Scotch
10ml Dry Vermouth
1 cup Saison (or beer of your choice)

Instructions
Pour the strega into a tall glass.
Add the scotch followed by the vermouth.
Top with beer.
Enjoy!

You can read more about my trip to Salem, and other parts of America, in my travelogue cookbook Bites and Pieces of America, which also includes my witchy brewster inspired recipe for a Dark Ale Spider! 🙂

Shakespeare Under The Stars

When Shakespeare’s Pop-up Globe came to Melbourne recently I was hoping they would stage Macbeth or A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They didn’t. Happily the two shows we did see, Around The Globe In 60 Minutes and Henry V, were awesome so I wasn’t disappointed.

When it was announced that Shakespeare’s Pop-up Globe would be going to Sydney, I was annoyed to see that both Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream were going to be performed. There was only one thing to do – go to Sydney!

I’ve never read A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I had a rough idea of the plot. One thing I knew for sure was there were fairies. Imagine my shock when Titania, Oberon and Puck came onto stage, not as fairies, but as New Zealand Maoris. That was some surprise! It was then that I remembered that the Pop-up Globe began in Auckland, New Zealand. I was disappointed that there would be no fairies on stage, but also excited as I’m a big fan of New Zealand. I was very curious to see how this twist would play out.

If you had no idea what A Midsummer Night’s Dream was about, having one section of the play spoken in Maori would have been very confusing. Happily my limited knowledge of the play allowed me to follow what was happening on stage. It was jolting but fun to hear Maori spoken alongside Shakespearian English and to see traditional Maori costumes among the Elizabethan ones. If that wasn’t weird enough, the actors performing the play within a play were dressed as Aussie tradesmen. By the end of the performance I felt like I had been on a wild ride! I couldn’t wait for our next visit to the Globe.

It’s no surprise that Macbeth, a play that features three witches, is one that I have read and seen many filmic adaptions of. Unlike A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this was a more traditional production. The roles of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Macduff were brilliantly acted and gave me new insights into characters I thought I knew well. There was a school group in the audience, standing in the front section. Watching them, wide-eyed as the characters drew us into their emotional rollercoasters, was a stark reminder that Shakespeare was a playwright and his works are best enjoyed on the stage.

One of the reasons I love Macbeth is the witches and they did not disappoint! They commanded the stage and sent chills down my spine with their wicked performances as the three weird sisters. Like wraiths they moved, swayed and stalked across the stage while treating us to eerily sung songs that vibrated through our souls. At one point in the play the witches left the stage and came up behind the group of school children. Weaving through the audience, they scarily reached out to the school children while the children shrieked and tried to run away. I wonder if I was the only one in the audience who wanted to run down and join the witches? The whole play was a grand spectacle from start to end. It was well worth the trip to Sydney. I hope I get to see more performances of this incredible play.

Posset
To aid in the murder of King Duncan, Lady Macbeth drugs the possets of his guards so they will stay asleep while their King is slain. Modern possets, like my Lime Posset, are delicious, creamy desserts. The possets Lady Macbeth drugs were drinks made with warm, spiced milk mixed with either wine or ale. Some possets have beaten eggs added, much like an eggnog. As a fan of eggnog, I just had to add egg to my posset drink. However, unlike Lady Macbeth, I didn’t add a sleeping potion 🙂 

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Ingredients (per drink)
1/2 cup milk
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground mace
1 egg, room temperature
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup ale
freshly grated nutmeg for serving

Instructions
Combine milk, cinnamon, cloves and mace in a saucepan.
Gently bring to the boil over low heat.
Whisk together the egg and sugar in a heatproof bowl until fluffy.
Whisk the hot milk slowly into the egg.
Return to the saucepan.
Add the ale and whisk until warm but not boiling.
Pour into heatproof mugs.
Serve with a sprinkle of grated nutmeg.

Mixing It With The Locals

My partner Paul and I were talking recently about the concept of a local bar. Growing up watching tv shows, “the local” was a place you could drop in after work, have a drink, catch up with friends and generally unwind before going home. Cheers is a perfect example. Not only does everyone know your name, but they also know your drink!

The closest either of us had come to a local bar was when we were at University. Our uni was the only one that had an actual bar on campus. I lived on campus, so it really was my local. I loved going there. No matter what time of day or night, I was bound to bump into someone I knew. I’d drop in for a beer before a lecture or pop in afterward for a couple of rounds. Lunchtime was great, as we all caught up around plates of chips and gravy. I later discovered that the Canadians have a similar dish – poutine. While the staff didn’t know our names or our drinks, it was still a great place to unwind before hitting the books for a long night of study.

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After leaving uni, we never really found a favourite place to drink. The closest we came recently was our local cafe, Corinthians. With great food and great coffee, combined with wonderful staff, it soon became our favourite coffee place. The staff are friendly, they know our names and, very importantly, they know how we take our coffee! But it’s not a local bar, and not just because it doesn’t sell alcohol. While the staff are great they are always on the run and don’t have time to sit down for for a chat. Nor are there other regular patrons there we know, so there is no communal catching up. It’s just Paul and me having a damn good coffee – and it is damn good coffee! Occasionally we may catch up with a friend or bump into one but that is not the norm.

And then it happened. Last year a craft beer bar opened just down the road from us. Could this be the local we so dearly desired?

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The moment we walked into Hopheads we loved it. From the graffiti style logo on the wall, to the 8 beers on tap, to the shelves stocked with interesting and tantalising libations, we knew we had found a gem. And we weren’t the only ones! Over the year, a steady group of regulars have come together to drink and catch up with each other. I never thought I would be as excited to see friends as I was to drink beer 🙂 But that’s what Hopheads is like – it’s not just the drinking, but the socialising.

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Part of what makes Hopheads so wonderful are the owners – Adrian & Wai Lee. We have never been made to feel so welcome in an establishment than we have here. We hit it off with them straight away and were delighted we shared similar views on politics and life in general. Many an afternoon and evening has been pleasantly spent drinking and engaging in riveting conversation. They not only welcomed us, but our dogs too 🙂

We didn’t know what to expect when Hopheads opened. We expected great beers and we got them (the beer is excellent). We hoped it would be a place where locals would congregate and have a good time and we got that too. We didn’t expect to meet people we genuinely care about and to form deep friendships, but we have. What we really didn’t expect was the depth of friendship that blossomed between the owners and us. Adrian and Wai Lee are more than just publicans who know our names and know what we drink. They are dear and cherished friends with whom we have shared a turbulent year. We look forward to sharing many more years of friendship – and many many more beers!

One of my favourite ways of cooking with beer is Beer Can Chicken. I’m allergic to chilli so I use a mild spice rub. You can make your own spice rub based on what you like. If you have room and want something sweet afterwards, you can make these Beer and Bacon Cupcakes!

Beer Can Chicken

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Ingredients
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly grated turmeric
1 tablespoon mixed dried herbs
1 free-range chicken
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 can of beer

Method
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Position the oven rack low enough to accommodate the height of the chicken on the beer can.
In a small bowl mix together the salt, turmeric and mixed herbs. Set aside.
Remove any giblets from inside the chicken and pat dry with paper towels.
Rub the chicken all over with olive oil. Using the spice rub, season the inside cavity of the chicken, and the outside of the chicken, rubbing well into the skin.
Drink half the beer.
Place the beer can in the middle of the baking tray. Carefully place the chicken on the beer can so it is sitting upright and the can is inserted into the chicken. Position the chicken legs so they help stabilise the chicken on the can. You want the can to hold the majority of the weight and the legs to stop it from falling over.
Place the chicken in the oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes per 500g plus an extra 20 minutes. Check every 20 minutes and baste if there are any juices.
The best way to check if the chicken is cooked is by placing a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh or the breast without touching the bone. It should be approximately 82C / 180F.
Allow to rest for 10 minutes before removing from beer can.
To remove the chicken, hold the chicken upright with one hand and a pair of tongs then use your other hand to carefully wiggle the can free using another pair of tongs or by wearing a heat-proof glove. Work over a sink or in the baking tray being very careful of the hot liquid inside the can.