Last week I went back to school. I’d been absent since last year and so it was high time I put in another appearance.
Back in January 2014, my other half and I attended a Cheese and Wine Pairing Evening hosted by Hertfordshire Wine School. I learnt that it’s nothing like school because a) you don’t get told off for laughing and chatting with the person next to you and b) they certainly don’t mind if you’re tipsy in class. I also learnt that there's a white wine in existence that I actually like (never thought I’d see the day!) and that it goes remarkably well with a sliver of Sparkenhoe - which is a hard, unpasteurised cow’s cheese, don’t you know.
The evening was held in St. Albans at the County Club (a great, not so little, venue that is available for private hire and where, as it happens, I had my 40th birthday bash). The room was beautifully set out with approximately 6 large tables, each seating about 10 people. We were on a table with a good, funny bunch of very local and not so local (German and London) folk.
We were all given a tasting sheet to fill in. Here’s mine (scruffy handwriting – must try harder!) You’ll see that we had 7 wines (well, 6 wines and a port) and 5 cheeses. The idea was to try each wine with each cheese and write down if you thought it was a good combination or not.
David Rough from Hertfordshire Wine School was the perfect host and ‘teacher’. We were given details of how each wine was produced; the origin, climate, grape variety, taste, heritage (and more) which was fascinating. So too was the in-depth description of the cheeses; how they were made and why some are soft, hard, mouldy and/or holey etc.
Most interestingly, what someone else found to be a delicious combination of a certain wine & cheese, I most certainly didn’t. To them it was smooth and creamy; to me it was unbelievably bitter and just, well, wrong. I learnt that we all have different taste buds and so there’s no wrong or right combination - it’s all a matter of personal taste (cue Kenny Everett leg swing!). So, that’s where the fun, the discussion and debate came in which made for a very social and interesting evening out. We said, at the end of the night, that we’d definitely do it again.
And so, a year later, when I was, as always, stuck for a birthday present (no wonder when other half’s birthday is in the same friggin week as Christmas!), I turned, once more, to Hertfordshire Wine School for inspiration. Not wanting to repeat the gift bought last year (though I am sure you can go many times and experience different wines and cheeses), I opted for the ‘A Tasting of British Beers’ on the evening of St. Patricks Day (genius timing).
Held at the same venue, it was, again, nicely laid out but with just one table seating 12 this time. I asked David if it was intentional that the beer evenings were smaller but it’s not, it’s just that there’s more demand for the wine evenings.
As before there was a good mixture of people around the table. One newly-wed young couple, a dad with his son and daughter in their 20’s, an older father and son and a group of 3 guys (with one arriving rather late but he didn’t get a detention). Oh and there was a rather dashing older man with his younger wife. She wasn’t his wife and ‘she’ is me and if he likes it, he needs to put a ring on it! Moving on….
The evening started off with a few PowerPoint slides containing some very interesting facts presented by David. Did you know that in the middle-ages, beer was safer to drink than the water? Fancy being totally smashed by 4pm every day! There were many more fascinating facts, figures and diagrams delivered throughout the evening but, as you may want to go for yourself, I won’t spoil it for you. And anyway, some of the beer was really quite strong and my notes leave much to be desired.
|Let's talk about hops|
|Me, smelling the hops.|
In total, we tasted 7 beers and finished with Guinness (of course). We discussed, as a group, each beer in turn and it was evident that some around the table knew their beers, their beer festivals and what constitutes a ‘session’ beer as opposed to a beer that would be slowly sipped if out with the wife (he was deadly serious, which made me laugh). And we also tried different foods with the beers - cheese, sausages cooked in honey & mustard and with one beer we tried cake! Each food picked to complement the beer - much like you would with wine really.
Out of the 7 beers I tried, I had two favourites - well, 3, but I was already a massive fan of the Innis & Gunn having discovered it in Edinburgh a few years ago. So, the other 2 were ‘The 3 Brewers’ - which is brewed in the neighbouring village of Sandridge. And the other, which is definitely going on the shopping list, is the rather gothic sounding ‘Death or Glory’ which in my opinion is very similar to the Innis & Gunn, just ‘richer’ in colour and taste.
|8 brown bottles sitting in a row...|
In a nutshell – both great nights out. So, if you fancy doing something different or want to give an original gift, definitely check out Hertfordshire Wine School. They offer 4 and 8 week wine tasting courses, visits to vineyards and if you want to get really serious about the whole school thing, you can even gain a recognised qualification with them via the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. Tastings also held in Harpenden and Hertford.