Living as we do in the boonies of NW London, Whole Foods in Kensington High Street is quite a trek, so not a regular shopping destination for me. Which is a shame, because it's an utterly amazing place with all kinds of food and drink temptations. I could spend hours and hours and hours and hours in there!
Pete and I recently made our way to the flagship store (the American chain now has five London stores) for a Beer & Bangers tasting.
The event was to celebrate a new beer bar selling draft beers to take away.
The idea is that you make a one-off purchase of a "growler" and then have it refilled each time you visit, with draft beer from a regularly changing selection.
A growler is a half (US) gallon jug of beer. But the term originated in the late 19th century when fresh beers were carried home in small galvanised pails. It is said that the sound of CO2 escaping from the lid, as the beer sloshed around in the pail, sounded like a growl.
These days, modern glass growlers are commonly sold at breweries and brewpubs as a means to sell take-out beer. They are generally made of glass and have either a screw-on cap or a hinged porcelain gasket cap, which can provide freshness for a week or more.
Whole Foods have brought growlers to London in 946 ml and 1.89 litre sizes. The empty bottles cost £3.69 and £3.99 respectively and beer prices range from £3.49 upwards depending on the beer you choose and which size of bottle.
Beer buyer Gavin Stevens talked us through the three beers currently on tap.
Prepared Foods Head Chef Gerry Beck had matched each one to a Whole Foods fresh sausage from their extensive range. Hand-made in-store daily, the sausages are made from 100% British meat bought from farms that meet high animal welfare standards. Some of the recipes were provided by the head company, but many were developed in store for the local market.
Our first pairing was London Meantime Lager with a chicken, sage and apple sausage.
Although I don't usually drink beer, I found the Meantime light and citrusy with no bitterness at all, and a beer I was happy to drink. Gerry agreed and said he also detected a hint of apple, leading to his sausage match. The sausage was mild in flavour, so didn't overwhelm the beer, but at the same time, packed a lot more flavour than any chicken sausages I've tried before. It was also pleasantly moist, which Gerry said came from cooking slowly in the oven.
Our second pairing was Redemption Pale Ale with a pork, cheddar cheese and smoked bacon sausage.
Between all of us we described the beer as very hoppy with a long dry finish, a typically British bitter ale, though not really a session beer as it's a little too hoppy for that. Gerry explained that the pork in these sausages came from the Midlands, and was full of flavour. He also added that, as there are no nitrates added to the bacon, it remains pink when cooked. I found the sausage very bacon-y in flavour, perhaps a little too much so for my tastes. And when eaten together with the beer, it tasted like frankfurters!
Our third pairing was Brewdog Punk IPA and an Italian-style pork, fennel and garlic sausage.
What an intriguing beer! Double hopped (during the initial boiling process for bitterness and then during fermentation for the aroma), we found this beer citrusy and fruity and refreshing. I was completely bemused that it smelled like mangoes – really, really like mangoes! The sausage was also robustly flavoured with a strong hit of fennel and just the right touch of garlic. This was a superb match, definitely my favourite.
Both these and the pork, cheddar and bacon sausages were really moist and Gerry explained that he'd poached them in beer before grilling them. A great tip!
I also wondered whether this beer might work with Indian food, though that may simply be because of the mental association that came from that surprising mango aroma!
To finish the session, our last pairing was one of the many bottled beers on sale in the store - Stroud Brewery's Woolsack Porter with a Lincolnshire sausage.
This was a mild stout, not at all bitter. The Lincolnshire was decent, a good example of it's kind, but this was the weakest match for me as I felt the beer and sausage didn't complement each other at all.
It's so odd that I'm the one writing about this evening, with Pete being the beer drinker in our house! We both love sausages, but I reckon he's keener there, too. But, to my surprise, this beer and bangers matching really caught my imagination and I ended up writing copious notes to record my thoughts about each pairing.
Pete was, as you might imagine, suitably enthusiastic about the new Whole Foods growlers, especially given the inclusion of Redemption beer. Redemption is not available in the bottle, nor in any takeaway format directly from the brewery, so this is the first time it's been on sale to take home.
If we lived locally, I'm sure we'd make more use of this new service; we think it's a great idea!
Kavey Eats attended as a guest of Whole Foods.