Humble pie

When the chief executive of one of the country’s most respected beer institutions talks seriously, it pays to listen.

George Philliskirk, chief executive of The Beer Academy, admits that as a student at Newcastle University, he would often call into the city’s Hotspur pub for a lunchtime pie and a bottle of Brown Ale.

But gone are the days when lunch could be taken in the form of a pie and a pint. Fat content health considerations, obesity fears, calorie counts and nutritional negatives have consigned the pie and pint to history’s waste disposal unit.

The wider availability of pub grub has destroyed the working-person’s (and student’s) traditional ‘quickie’ – but does greater choice necessarily mean ‘better’?

To some of us, the golden age of pub cuisine has been infected with a large outbreak of gastro-itis.

The long-closed Rose & Crown in the east end of Newcastle displayed the most inviting invitation ever scrawled on a sheet of A4. A note in the window read: ‘free pie with every pint.’ Oh joy of joys, what bliss and golden deliciousness.

However, that was nearly 25 years ago and that quarter-century has slowly choked the pie and pint – once the staple diet of students and steelworkers alike – with little prospect of regurgitation.

A single pie resting in a heated glass case on a pub counter (for how long was part of the attraction), presented on a plate and served with a well-deserved pint may have been one of life’s more simple pleasures and now it’s all but gone – not forgotten, but sorely missed outside some city bars in Scotland.

There was no need for accompanying chips, gravy, boiled veg or insincere garnish – a naked pie is beer’s natural ally and a once-loving partnership has drifted along the road to irretrievable breakdown.

We now have to search far and wide for pork pie, game pie, chicken pie, mince pie, mutton pie or steak and kidney pie to beef up the bitter. Pie is still available in pubs, of course, but it’s not pie pie and it’s certainly not the pie of George Philliskirk’s fond memory. Fortunately, pockets of resistance hold off the march of the microwave and the over-rated oven chip.

Every Saturday, the Pork Pie Appreciation Society meets in the Old Bridge Inn in Ripponden, West Yorkshire (the motto goes: “If you like a pie, if you like a pint and if you like a banter, you’re welcome”). They discuss porkiness, pastry, jelly, texture, bouquet and serving temperature between draughts of Timothy Taylor Landlord (4.3% alcohol by volume), the ultimate pork pie accompaniment.

Spicy, dry and citrus in character, the beer’s hoppy bitterness balances the pie’s peppery seasoning of sage, thyme and parsley perfectly.

Incidentally, pork pie sales in the UK increased from £158.1m in 2002 to £165.6m in 2005.

Article continues is Issue 7 of Beers of the World Magazine

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