In the early nineties when I was a student in Brighton we started frequenting a brilliant pub called ‘The Evening Star’. It’s just up by the station on Surrey Street and it’s still my favourite pub in Brighton, probably my favourite pub anywhere. It’s small with a wooden floor, a few tables and chairs, a tiny bar and toilets for men and, rather unnecessarily really, toilets for women. Before the current trend for beards this was the place to see men with facial hair. It was probably the place to see women with facial hair too. If the customers had swords or axes propped up next to them instead of umbrellas they’d not look out of place. And next to the bar crowded with pumps is a frequently updated blackboard listing the plethora of beers they have on tap available to be poured as thirds, halves, two-thirds or, of course, pints. If you’re ever in Brighton, go there. Just don’t start singing and dancing on the table and then fall off and accidentally let the one ring slip onto your finger because… you get the idea.
In those early days ‘The Evening Star’ was the place to drink Dark Star beers. In the cellar of the pub this fledgling brewery started making some excellent ales, and excellent enough that the company grew. As they expanded so they needed larger premises and while the pub is still there the brewery now operates from, rather aptly, the Star Trading Estate in Partridge Green near Horsham.
About a month ago I had the pleasure of visiting the brewery. My very good friend John Robins, (you may have heard John on Radio X – formerly Xfm – on Saturday mornings, or seen him on programmes like ‘Mock The Week’), invited me to join him at one of the brewery’s beer clubs. He’d mentioned his love of Dark Star beer on the radio (‘Hophead’ specifically) and pleased by the mention the brewery had invited him along and told him he could bring a friend. It was a lovely evening where we got the opportunity to meet the staff, see the set-up, eat an extremely keen spread of pie, cheese, bread and the like, and of course enjoy numerous glasses of beer. After quenching our thirsts and sating our appetites on leaving we were very generously given a number of bottled and canned beers to try at home and one of them I turned into a really successful bread.
(Here’s John enjoying his Hophead next to some seriously cool kegs.)
The bread was made with a starter (sometimes called a Poolish Ferment) using the beer which is left to ferment overnight before finishing the dough and baking the bread the next day. The beer I used was a really interesting one called Critical Mass that’s brewed in whisky casks giving the finished ale a flavour not unlike beer that’s been left in an ashtray, but in a good way. The flavour of the finished bread though was outstanding but even more impressive was the structure with a really crisp crust and a wonderfully open crumb with huge impressive holes.
Beer Bread made with an Overnight Starter
For the Starter:
90ml real ale
90g strong white flour
about half a teaspoon of dried yeast
This is all mixed together in a bowl, covered in clingfilm and then left overnight after which time it’ll be frothy and bubbling and smell very beery.
For the Bread:
all of the starter of course
350g strong white flour
25g strong wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon dried yeast
350ml lukewarm water
1.5 teaspoons salt
Mix all the ingredients into a smooth dough and then knead, either by hand until you just can’t knead any more, or (what I do) combine and knead all the ingredients in a mixer (a Kenwood Chef of course). It’ll be a rather wet dough but that’s what you want. Then let it prove in an oiled covered bowl ever 30-40 mins or so until it’s doubled in size and then folding it a couple of times before letting it rise again. After a couple of hours of doing this shape it (either on a baking cloth or in a proving basket) and get your oven as hot as it will go either with a baking stone in the middle or a heavy metal baking tray and put another tray of vessel of some kind on the bottom of the oven. Flour the risen dough, slash it, and get it on the tray or baking stone (with a peel if you have one) before pouring a cup of water into the tray at the bottom of the oven to create steam. Then give it about 12 minutes at the hottest setting before dropping the heat to about 200 degrees for another 30 minutes.
Let it cool before slicing it or it’ll squash flat, but you won’t be able to wait too long because it’s going to smell amazing.
Now, get yourselves over to the brewery in Partridge Green because there’s a great shop in there and everyone’s lovely.