The past Sunday saw the end of a pretty crazy week for me, but it ended in a wonderful fashion. I was absolutely wiped from the exceptional demand we’d had at the opening of BottleDog, which I’m now involved in running, and the goodbye party for a dear friend and ex-manager that went on far too late into the wee hours of Sunday. Still, I had booked myself for Sunday Sessions at the Draft House, which I have shamefully not been able to attend before due to my silly schedule of working 6-7 days a week for the past 18 months. I’ve come to know Max and Maire, the organizers of the Sessions, and I’m glad I could finally make it as I knew it’d be good.
It did help that one of my favorite breweries were the focus of the event. The mighty Thornbridge, brewers of classic English beers like Jaipur, Wild Swan and (Wild) Raven, paired with imaginative dishes spanning the range of beers they’ve made. I mean, a done deal doesn’t even begin to describe it.Feeling decidedly tired, as alluded to in the first paragraph up there, I missed the billed start time of the event, but given that Max announced on my entry that the delay was entirely up to me and that we could now get started, I didn’t actually miss anything but friendly chat. My apologies to anyone and everyone.
Sunday Sessions are a cool thing, where the small and intimate venue of the Charlotte Street location of the Draft House is turned into a private venue on a day they are normally closed. “Why Sunday Roast when you can Sunday Session?” asked Max in his introduction to the afternoon. Everyone there was really keenly into the event, which is unsurprising given you have to book in advance and the thing regularly sells out far before the date.
The brewery members in attendance give a brief introduction to themselves and their work, and describe each beer in turn. Max, as the Master of Ceremonies, then explains the peculiar pairings by way of rapid-fire word and flavor association. “So in the Halcyon we have that tropical fruitiness, in that there is grapefruit, grapefruit and mango from the dish, complementing each other. You have a mass of sharp bitterness, so a dollop of coconut mayonnaise to balance it out – coconut to keep things tropical…” and so on. You can tell that he’s studied his flavor wheels and palate associations thoroughly, despite putting himself down as “just a beer person, not into food”. Then again, he’s not the one actually cooking on the day!
We started out with a bang, the abovementioned Halcyon (7.4%) paired with Crab Mango that was an absolute delight, complexly layered textures (crispness from the rice paper, soft and creamy mayonnaise, slightly chewy crab meat) and a zing that matched the beer well. Technical details about the hopping process of the beer were dished out by brewer Dom Driscoll, while descriptive patter was provided by sales guy James Buchanan. Their contrasting styles and approaches worked really well.
The atmosphere was super jovial and pleasant. There is nothing quite like the relaxed feel of Sunday drinking, when you’re not pressured to have Friday beers after a week from hell, or going all-out on a Saturday, dolled up to the nines. Instead, we were there both for the experience and for each other, united in our love of what beer and food could collectively be.
Dom and James entertained the crowd by mentioning how in their local vicinity, “Jaipured” is now an euphemism for someone excessively boozed up, and “Jaipoorly” is used for the aftermath of a night on their most popular beer. That can’t do anything but tickle egos in the best possible way. We made our way through a wonderful lamb’s meat scotch egg paired with the Sequoia amber ale, one of those beautiful thoroughly English comfort experiences that banish the dreariness of the climate and scenery away, wrapping you up in the warmth of a wood-panelled, low-ceilinged pub somewhere away from the world.I won’t bore you with all the dishes, but will share how the afternoon came to a close: with a pairing of the Otto weizenbock (think banana, caramel, that sweetness on the outside of French toast, and cloves) with a banana cake, banana crisp and sugarwork along with a gin grattachecca (which was basically a slush puppie with booze). The banana cake wasn’t overly fruity, instead displaying the cinnamony, cardamomy spicey characteristics of carrot cake. Superb.
Can you tell I enjoyed myself, despite starting the day worse for wear? It cemented Thornbridge as a guardian of traditional styles in the UK (their biere de garde stood up to any Saison I’d ever had) and an innovator (Imperial Raspberry Stout, sheesh!) worthy of many an accolade. The Draft House events team deserves applause as well, given their attention to detail, capability of turning out quality dishes not uncomparable to stuff you’d see on Masterchef – and I don’t mean the preliminary rounds – and fearless championing of indulgent events of sipping on small amounts of beer while enjoying taster-sized morsels of things that made me go “I wish I had a bowl of that!” on multiple occasions.
Keep an eye on the usual social media channels and the Sunday Sessions website if you fancy going to the next one. You’ll more likely than not see me in attendance, swapping homebrew bottles with other nutcases like myself.