Interview with Ed Hughes of Sharp's Brewery

'It's a beer renaissance' – Interview with Ed Hughes of Sharp's Brewery

by Great British Chefs 13 November 2015

We catch up with Ed Hughes of Sharp's Brewery to see how Sharp's are bringing beer and food pairing into the mainstream.

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Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Beer and food – it’s a pairing as solidly on the up as Kim and Kanye. While for some, wine will always be their dinner party tipples, a host of beery pioneers are setting out to prove how good the amber nectar should be considered as being worthy of a place on the dinner table. It’s no surprise then that Sharp’s, one of the UK’s most successful breweries (thanks largely to Doom Bar being the biggest selling cask ale in the country) is at the helm of this culinary renaissance.

As part of their ‘Adventure’ series celebrating the notoriously adventurous Cornish spirit, covering everything from beach rugby to surfing, Sharp’s teamed up with Nathan Outlaw to challenge beer fans to come up with the best recipes to pair with beer. This search for the perfect beer and food pairing culminated in the final at Cornwall College, Cambourne, where Nathan Outlaw, Sharp’s beer sommelier Ed Hughes and The Mariner’s chef Zack Hawke got to judge the final dishes of competitors.

The finalists will have all of their dishes served at The Mariners in mini-form on a sharing plate, so that the public can decide which dish is the best. The winner’s dish will then appear on the menu from December. As Nathan Outlaw notes, the standard from finalists Helen Upshall, Matthew Kinnes and Andrew Hesser has been high:

'I was extremely surprised by the standard of entries for this competition. The finalists' dishes were all very different and it made judging them incredibly difficult. In fact, in the end we decided to put all three dishes on the menu at The Mariners as tapas style plates throughout November and will then be asking customers to choose their favourite. I'm looking forward to seeing the result as there's so little between them!'

We spoke to beer sommelier Ed Hughes about the beer renaissance, his favourite pairings and dos and don’ts of pairing beer with food.

How did the collaboration between Sharps and Nathan come about? Was it with the opening of The Mariners or before that?

The collaboration started when we first brewed our Connoisseurs Choice range in 2011, that year Sharp’s has brewed fifty-two different beers in one year, not for commercial availability – it was just really to test and pay homage to so many different styles of beer. It coincided with Nathan when he was at St. Enedoc and he ran masterclasses, so we ran a masterclass with Nathan to start off with which was a full beer and food menu, and then the second masterclass which came a year later was with Nathan and Tom Kerridge, so it just went from strength to strength.

There’s a lot of people saying this is a beer revolution, but this is far from a revolution – it’s a beer renaissance. Beer is 9000 years old and it’s a global phenomenon.

Tell me about the food and beer pop-ups you’ve been doing…

It’s been a busy year this year, which started off at the end of January with London Beer Week by the same guys who do London Cocktail Week, it was brilliant – a whole week! And we took our secret bar, which I can’t tell you about because it’s a secret. We must have done a tasting experience for a good 800 people that week, but on top of that there was Craft Beer Rising, so we had a stall there at the Old Truman Brewery. We were also doing more elite events at little speakeasies, tasting session masterclasses with chef Paul Ripley, who was Nathan’s mentor, and myself at the private room at the Worship Street Whistling Shop, a speakeasy cocktail bar. Quite a lot of beer writers were in there but it was bookable through Emerald Street and I think Mr Hyde magazine.

Do you think people are becoming more aware of beer and food pairing?

Oh yeah. There’s a lot of people saying this is a beer revolution, but this is far from a revolution – it’s a beer renaissance. Beer is 9000 years old and it’s a global phenomenon. Hopefully people can learn about where the different styles of beers come from, and the vast flavours there are, from 2%–24% ABV beers, from very sweet to very bitter, and that it lends itself to food sometimes even better than certain wines.

Obviously North Cornwall has amazing produce, particularly seafood, have you created any beers with food pairing in mind especially?

Yes, our food and beer journey started in 2006 where we brewed Chalky’s Bite, which was named after Rick Stein’s dog. Rick challenged the brewery to do a beer that goes with seafood, and it was a no-brainer on a commercial level, but we never just do things for commercial sense, we do things because we generally believe in it. We specifically went for oily fish like salmon and mackerel – mackerel particularly as it’s more native to Cornwall, so we decided to brew a Belgian Abbey-style beer which was 6.8%, so again doffing the cap to great Belgian Abbey brewing. It’s all about the yeast, so there’s a lot of residual sugar. It’s not to complete with the mackerel, it’s all about a balancing act when matching beer and food – one doesn’t need to overpower the other – it’s all about matching and complimenting.

Nathan Outlaw
Finalist Helen Upshall
Finalist Helen Upshall
Finalist Matthew Kinnes
Finalist Matthew Kinnes

You’ve diversified your beer range a lot bringing in new styles and flavours, is this driven by consumers’ enthusiasm for craft beer?

Yes I think it’s definitely consumer driven, very market driven and as a brewery, we’re still very young when it comes to the world of brewing. We’re only twenty years old but it’s been quite a journey of serious increase in capacity – Doom Bar is now the best-selling cask ale in the country, which is unheard of because our direct competitors are 200–300 year old breweries with estates of up to 2000 pubs and we only have the one pub, so we like to move with the times but we like to challenge ourselves as well. There’s something about being in Cornwall on that peninsula, there’s a different sort of energy and there were a lot of pioneers from the South West if we think of Plymouth and the US. We’ve always strived to be better and I think that’s the key really, that’s why we do the Adventure Brewing campaign, because it’s about people in the end but also about people being the best they can be. We’ve got Nathan with us today, he cooks simple food – and would say he cooks simple food – but the man holds four Michelin stars now all together. It’s simple perfection, that’s the key.

In beer you have incredible aromas, if you put it in a straight edge pint glass all the aromas dissipate.

What’s your food and beer matching philosophy? Are there any dos and don’ts for beginners?

A big ‘do’ is the glassware, make sure you drink the beer out of a brandy balloon or a red wine glass. We are conditioned as beer drinkers to use a straight-edged pint glasses, and the arbitrary unit for beer is a pint. In fact, if you get into the mind-set that you’re drinking a wine you automatically respect what’s in the glass a bit more, and it looks after the aromas. In beer you have incredible aromas, if you put it in a straight edge pint glass all the aromas dissipate. And in fact the brandy balloons, as pretty as they are, are also functional because they hold and accentuate the aromas.

It’s a simple thing as well, it’s not like a Jedi mind trick – some of these beers have taken four years to make, and to put it into a straight glass, for all of those aromas to dissipate and drink it down in a couple of swigs… it’s four years of work!

What’s your favourite ever beer and food pairing?

My favourite ever beer and food pairing is... can I do a couple? Barbecued mackerel and Chalky’s Bite, that’s a favourite and easily done at home. Of recent it’s probably the ‘Beeramisu’ – we do a tiramisu at The Mariners where we use a beer called Dubbel Coffee Stout for the pudding. Comparable to that on a dessert side of things, Paul Ainsworth's Bread and butter pudding with 6 Vintage Blend is just incredible!