I was cooking dinner the other evening, and I was thinking about what beer I'd like to go with it. I was cooking steak with caramelised onions, potatoes, and a rocket salad. Simple food, which would be nothing without the caramelised onions - they add a really sweet burst of flavour that seems to intensify everything around it.
I knew I wanted a fairly big beer, with some darker malts and a bit of sweetness. Nothing too flashy - the Port Brewing 3rd Anniversary I had a few days ago went great with enchiladas, but would grate against the simplicity of tonight's food.
I've been enjoying quite a few Greene King beers lately - I like their defiant Englishness, the peppery, almost minerally edge to the hops and the sweet, chewy malt. I'm not saying that they are how English beer should be, or how it used to be, but there is something very distinctly English about them.
In the end, I plumped for a bottle of Abbot Reserve. When I visited the brewery a few months ago, brewer Craig Benett mentioned that they'd aced the first brew of Abbot Reserve - it went to a tasting panel, and they all said "don't change a thing". Naturally, I was a bit sceptical.
Predictably, I was wrong. Abbot Reserve is a lovely drop of beer. It doesn't dazzle with a symphony of citrus and tropical fruit hops, beguile with smoky malts, or punch you in the throat with a big dollop of alcohol. What it is is very well balanced, full of flavour, rich, classic English ale. If I have any criticism of it, then like so much large-production beer, I find it a bit over-carbonated - but that's my favourite gripe about most bottle beers.
Did it go well with the steak? Hell yeah. Some people say that Greene King beers don't taste of much. This is simply rubbish - they taste of plenty, and they do so in a way that harmonised and enhanced flavours of the simple but tasty food I was preparing.
I know it's not fashionable, and I'm not being deliberately perverse, but Greene King Abbot Reserve is a great beer. There's something almost austere about it, something subtle that doesn't shower you in fireworks, set your clothes on fire, and roll you in glitter. But at the same time, it's packed full of chewy malt and dense, peppery hops. It's a great food beer. It's a great beer to drink on its own. Look, I know you won't believe me, but it's just a great beer.