Coming from the home of Charles Wells, with the weetabix smell of hops a regular feature in the air, I should probably be more of a beer-drinker than I am. I mis-spent my youth supping pints of Stripe and snakebites and black in sticky-floored, smokey bars and clubs. But lately, other than a refreshing ice-cold glass of larger on a hot summer's day, or a deep dark ale in front of the fire in a country pub on an Autumn evening, I don't tend to partake that much. Filling my belly with gallons of gassy beer doesn't appeal and the thought of spending the evening running to empty my bladder, or pass a lady-like burp is off-putting.
Luckily Friends of Glass and beer sommelier Jayne Peyton were on hand last month to change my perceptions, and show that beer is accessible to all. Finding the right brew to match your food is something of a revelation, but isn't difficult, especially with the array of glorious artisan and craft beers made now in the UK.
Friends Of Glass have a mission to promote the use and re-use of glass, and to show us that food and drink stored and served in glass is better for taste, for health and for the environment.
By showing us that beer doesn't have to be consumed in pint glasses, but can be drunk from wine glasses, flutes and tumblers it instantly made it more appealing. Furthermore, it can be paired with both sweet and savoury dishes, and we were treated to a plush afternoon tea experience to demonstrate the point.
Boarding the red vintage route master bus, I scuttled to the top deck, to be met with a sumptuous display of fine finger sandwiches, delicate petit fours and delectable pastries. The Afternoon Tea Bus Tour by BB Bakery was an absolute delight. Carefully laid out tables with recesses for the glasses and plates secured to the tables, there was no danger of spillages as we wound our way through the streets of London and passed iconic landmarks such as Big Ben and The London Eye.
There followed a fascinating and delicious afternoon under the expert guidance of Jayne Peyton, who talked us through the various different properties, tastes and notes of beers from Indian Pales Ales, to Porter Stouts and Wheat Beers.
My personal favourites were the Elgood's Coolship, a fruity, berry flavoured sour ale brewed by a Fenland brewery run by three sisters in Wisbech, and Innis and Gunn Original, a beer brewed in Scotland perfect for this time of year with rich oaky smokey toffee flavours - I'm delighted to have found this one in my local supermarket.
To begin our taste extravaganza, we sampled an IPA as an aperitif. The bitterness of the grapefruit and citrus aroma prompts the digestive system into action, so an Indian Pale Ale is perfect to serve with a starter, or with the light cream cheese and cucumber finger sandwiches we began with.
The sour ale complimented perfectly both the ham and cheese sandwiches - the sweet caramelised flavours matching the cheese and ham and the acidity cutting through the fat. It also goes well with the scones with cream and jam.
The smoked salmon and cream cheese blinis were paired with the aged oak Innis and Gunn, the smoked fish matching perfectly the oaky smokiness of the beer.
A London-based Fullers Porter was served with our strawberry cupcakes and chocolate macarons, the chocolate and coffee notes making it the perfect accompaniment to desserts at the end of a meal.
By the end of the tour, we'd not only driven around central London, but been on a whistle-stop taste tour of the finest beers made in Britain. Sampling them in small quantities, and with the right food certainly proved a bit of an eye-opener to me, and I've since been scouring my local stores to find my favourites.
It was a fabulous way to spend the afternoon, and lovely to meet some new friends, Manjiri from Travels For Taste and Sophie from The Fabulous Foodie Blog. Jayne was a delight to listen to, witty and knowledgable and it was fascinating learning about the benefits of glass from Friends Of Glass.
Next time you have friends over for dinner, what say you forgo the wine, and serve up a selection of ales instead?
Images by Rory Lindsay for Friends Of Glass.
Special thanks to Friends Of Glass and Jayne Peyton for a hugely enjoyable and educational afternoon.