Tag Archive for: Fermentation

Such a joy when two of my favourite food and drink passions consummate a relationship and the twin offspring are equally appealing. That’s what happened when Balance Brewing and Blending met Polyspore to create a brace of tremendous mushroom beers, available to buy now.

I tasted both Freckled Chestnut and Lion’s Mane from the bottle at the collab’s launch in the upstairs bar of Manchester’s Port Street Beer House. Both sets of business partners were present the christening – Will Harris and James Horrocks of mixed culture, barrel fermentation specialists Balance and Polyspore specialist mushroom growers Mike Fothergill and Dylan Pybus.

I’ve profiled both groundbreaking operations in recent months, visiting their respective bases in North Western Street near Piccadilly Railway Station and in the Radium Wrks Altrincham (Balance are currently moving to Sheffield Street nearer the station). Read those respective backstories here and here.

The collab beers, named after specific mushroom types, were scheduled for release at IndyManBeerCon at the start of October but weren’t quite ready Will and James (ex-brewers at Track and Squawk respectively) are nothing if not particular. The presence of Wild Beer Co at the festival, where I tasted their wasp nest yeast beer, reminded me that the Somerset-based brewery had once brewed a mushroom beer of their own called Breakfast of Champigons. It was a one-off. Down to, I suspect, a reluctance of even the most avid funkheads to grasp the fungi flavour in a glass.

Still there was a rapturous reception across the Pond for repeated batches of Texas farmhouse brewers Jester KIng’s Snörkel – a saison brewed with alderwood smoked sea salt and oyster mushrooms.

All very exotic but how do the new Balance brews stand up? They started off life in a single barrel, filled in December 2021. According to James: “This barrel was chosen as a base due to its nicely balanced acidity, fruity funk and clarity of flavour. The beer was split between two tanks, one had Lion’s Mane mushrooms added and the other had Freckled Chestnut mushrooms. The beer married with the mushrooms for just over a week before being bottled and laid down to condition.

“The wonderful mushrooms grown by Polyspore have imparted their own distinct character while letting the beer shine too. Lion’s Mane shows some really nice citrus character with vanilla and gentle umami whilst Freckled Chestnut has more earthy tones and nuttiness with a beautiful savoury element.”

Spot on. The brewers prefer the more up-front funk of the Lion’s Mane; I marginally prefer the Freckled Chestnut’s more brooding charms, which will open out surely with a year or two’s bottle ageing. Visit Balance’s website and both limited edition beers, priced at £18, appear to have sold out but, as with previous releases, you may be able to seek them out at specialist bottle shops. 

Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)is often cited as a myco adaptogen –  a class of fungi credited with medicinal merits across the centuries, especially by the Chinese. Hence it features in an IPA, part of a recently launched vegan and gluten free beer range called Fungtn. At 0.5per cent it is ‘guaranteed’ to keep you ‘hangover-free’. 

Personally, I’d rather take my chances and drink deep of the strikingly pure and complex 6.5 per cent Balance embodiment.

The weekend the clocks go forward 2002 and Jester King Spontan is guest pour at Dukes Bar, Halifax. That’s if there’s any left after the Friday being designated as ‘Sponzee Day – celebrating the iconic spontaneously fermented barrel sour’. Unimaginable even a few years ago for such an event in a provincial craft beer outpost; even now a big hand to bar owners Ellie and Sean.

This three year blend (18-19-20 vintages) from a farmhouse brewery outside Austin, Texas pays its dues to the Gueuze brewing style of Belgium. Yet another example of America’s magpie adoptions that have spread the word about niche beers once threatened with extinction.

Sponzee Day comes just three weeks after the death of Armand Debelder, whose Brouwerij Drie Fonteinen kept alive the Belgian tradition of gueuzes and the wild lambic beers from which they are blended. The man nicknamed ‘Grandfather Gueuze was just 70 and, suffering from cancer, had already handed over the reins to trusted associates. The brewery’s own website pays an affectionate homage https://www.3fonteinen.be/en/and there’s a fitting obituary on the Good Beer Hunting website,https://www.goodbeerhunting.com/blog/2022/3/10/goodbye-to-grandfather-geuze-armand-debelder-dies-at-71 which recounts how back in the Eighties he took over blending work at the family restaurant, Drie Fonteinen at a time when lambic seemed in terminal decline with small brewers swallowed up by multi-nationals. 

In tandem with brewer soulmate Frank Boon, Armand rallied the rearguard in the Pajottendland region south west of Brussels. In 1989 he found equipment and, despite family qualms, started brewing his own lambics.

So what are Lambics? Beers left in open vats where wild yeast and bacterias are allowed to take up residence. Once the fermentation process begins, the beer is stored in barrels and left to age for up to three years.

The rescue act was boosted by a kind of symbiotic serendipity. The doyen of British beer writers, Michael Jackson, developed a unique affinity with Belgian beer culture, exploring even its most arcane corners. We owe to him, in part, the survival of Saison, Flemish red ales and all the wild yeast styles.

In a 1996 interview Jackson surmised why he spent so much time documenting Belgium’s beer culture: “I think the motivation was almost like the motivation of some of those musicologists like Alan Lomax who went down to the Mississippi Delta in the ’50s and recorded old blues men before they died. I wanted to kind of record Belgian beer before those breweries didn’t exist anymore. I certainly didn’t see it as a career possibility, but I think all, or many, journalists have in them a sort of element of being an advocate.”

All this culminated in his Great Beers of Belgium (1991), whose sales across various editions have topped 150,000. It’s 15 years since his untimely death his digital legacy The Beer Hunter website is still a valuable resource despite its outdated lay-out. Here’s its summation of Gueuze:

“A bottled, sparkling, style that is much easier to find. Can have the toasty and Chardonnay-like notes found in Champagne. The word Gueuze (hard “g”, and rhymes with “firs”) may have the same etymological origins as the English words gas and ghost, and the Flemish gist (“yeast”), referring to carbonation and rising bubbles.

“The carbonation is achieved by blending young Lambic (typically six months old) with more mature vintages (two to three years). The residual sugars in the young Lambic and the yeasts that have developed in the old cause a new fermentation.… References to “old” (oud, vieux, vieille) on the label indicate a minimum of six months and a genuine Lambic process. Without these legends, a Lambic may have been ‘diluted’ with a more conventional beer”. 

Jackson’s describes the Drie Fonteinen beer as “creamy, aromatic, with a clean, teasing, perfumy fruitiness and a faintly herbal tartness”. I can concur with all that after refreshing my memory with a bottle at my favourite Calder Valley bar, Coin.

Armand Debelder reciprocated the appreciation, lamenting in one interview: “It’s a shame on Belgian brewers that there’s no statue of Jackson. He was the first to start describing lambic with words such as ‘horse sweat,’ words others may not have considered or perhaps been afraid to use. He was a friend of the Lambic producers. We have photos hanging in our brewery of when Jackson visited us. We were always happy to give him the opportunity to taste something special when he visited. He never asked for it. But because of his simple being and calmness, it was more than normal to offer him something exceptional.”

Survival remained perilous for a while. With the Debelder Lambics and Guezes on the up, an act of nature nearly destroyed the whole mission. On the morning of May 16 2009, a faulty thermostat caused the warehouse to heat up and because of the pressure the bottles started exploding one by one. 80,000 were los in one night. Bankruptcy loomed, but bottling and selling rare stocks helped the brewery bounce back.

My own conversion to Gueuze

What clinched it was the gift of a ‘2021 Horal Megablend’ . Over the years, encouraged by friends’ enthusiasm, I had dipped my toe (so to speak) in the Lambic pond and I was aware of the High Council for Artisanal Lambic Beers  (Horal), founded by Armand in 1997, to safeguard and promote the tradition. He quit as chairman in 2015 but 10 other members of this loose confederation of Lambic and Gueuze brewers and blenders around the Senne Valley have continued the biennial ‘Toer de Gueuze’, where they produce a celebratory ‘Megablend’ (blendedand open their doors to visitors. Last year’s Tour was necessarily a virtual version, but the event will return in 2022. Meanwhile check the site for virtual videos.

The producers involved are Boon, De Oude Cam, De Troch, Hanssens, Tilquin, Lambiek Fabriek, Lindemans, Mort Subite, Oud Beersel and Timmermans. They all contributed young and old Lambics that were then mega-blended by Frank Boon (whose own Oude Gueuze is benchmark stuff).

My personal bottle I owe to an old friend, Anita Rampall, from Visit Flanders. I couldn’t resist opening the 75cl bottle and it was a revelation – tart lemon then biscuity with a spicy floral hop note that lingered and lingered. You’d be hard pressed to buy a bottle now. Beer geeks will have squirrelled theirs away to see how they age. Fascinatingly, I wager. I now wish I had. Still, now it’s time to work my way through all the other Gueuzes on the planet.

Wish me luck. I’m about to embark on recreating the Roasted Chicken Wing Garum that is a party piece at Noma in Copenhagen. I’m scaling down the portions required by the Fermentation Lab of the global game-changing three-star restaurant and adapting my own less hi-tech equipment for the experiment.

They’ve allowed me to share the recipe from their Noma Guide to Fermentation (Artisan, £30), seeing how keen I was to explore a culinary technique handed down since Roman times and given a new lease of life by Noma founder Rene Redzepi and David Zilber, his head of fermentation for five years.

Read my ‘Anchovy is of the Essence – Garum, Coltura d’Alici and Nam Pla’ for a primer in my nascent discipleship and desire to enhance the flavours of my cooking with the funkiest of fermented sauces but without the traditional fish. https://www.neilsowerby.co.uk/2021/07/02/anchovy-is-of-the-essence-garum-colatura-dalici-and-nam-pla/ Now comes the hard, stinky part. I’ve purchased my chicken bones and wings and have adapted a rice cooker to stand in for a fermentation chamber, modifying the amount of raw materials to fit.

I’ve cheated by buying in organic pearl barley koji (from Amazon UK); next time I’ll start from scratch, but first I’ll have to acquire a koji tray. Another boy’s gastro toy, my wife sighs.

For the uninitiated, Koji is cooked rice that has been inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae, a mold that’s widespread in Japan. The mold releases enzymes that ferment the rice by decomposing its carbohydrates and proteins. In this case the process is applied to barley (barley miso is made this way). 

• Wish me luck over the coming weeks. I’ve followed the authors’ instructions to carefully peruse more detailed instructions in the ‘Beef Garum’ section but, with my success rate in creating basic kimchi not of the highest, I’m going to be on tenterhooks. All of a ferment, you might say. 

Roasted Chicken Wing Garum

Makes about 1.5 litres

2kg chicken bones; 3kg chicken wings; 450g Pearl Barley Koji; 480 grams non-iodised salt.

Roasting brings a lot of rich, fully developed flavour to this garum, meaning it needs only about a month of fermentation to coax out more umami. If we were to ferment this chicken garum as long as we do beef or squid garum, it would lose its subtlety and complexity.


Place the bones in a large pot and fill with water just to cover—about three litres. Bring the water to a boil, skimming away any impurities that float to the surface as it comes to temperature. Once it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the stock for three hours.

In the meantime, heat the oven to 180°C/355°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the chicken wings on the lined sheet and roast them for 40 to 50 minutes, tossing several times while cooking to ensure that they get an even, dark browning. Remove the wings from the oven and let them cool down. Weigh out 2 kilograms of the roasted wings and use a cleaver to chop them into small pieces. Strain the chicken stock through a fine-mesh sieve and allow it to cool.

Pulse the koji in a food processor to break it up into small pieces. Put the chopped chicken wings, koji, salt, and 1.6 kilograms of the chicken stock in a 3-litre fermentation vessel of your choice and stir to combine thoroughly. Scrape down the inner sides of the container with gloved hands or a rubber spatula and lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the liquid. Cover the container with a lid; screw it on slightly less than completely tight if it’s a screw cap or leave it slightly ajar in one corner if it’s a snap lid. Ferment the garum in a fermentation chamber at 60°C/140°F or in an electric rice cooker on “keep warm” for four weeks.

Every day for the first week, use a clean spoon or ladle to skim off as much fat as you can, then stir the garum and cover again. After the first week, skim and stir once a week.

To harvest: 

Pass the garum through a fine-mesh sieve, and then again through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. Allow the liquid to settle and skim off any fat that floats to the surface.

Pour the garum into bottles or another covered container. The garum is very stable and will keep well in the fridge for months. You can also freeze it for longer storage without any negative effects, but note that because of the high salt content, it probably won’t freeze completely solid.

Suggested Uses:

Ramen Broth

When first tasting roasted chicken wing garum, almost every Noma chef mutters the same word: “Ramen.” It’s true, this garum possesses some of the same deep, meaty tones of a great bowl of ramen. A splash poured into a basic kombu and katsuobushi dashi makes for a convincing cheat. And if you’ve made a more proper ramen broth, a touch of garum will help kick the flavor up to eleven.

Roasted Cashews

Coat cashews (or any nut of your choice) with melted butter and spread onto a baking sheet or oven- safe pan. Roast in a 160°C/320°F oven until they become golden brown and fragrant. Remove them from the oven and mix in a couple of tablespoons of chicken wing garum. Don’t add so much garum that the liquid pools on the pan. All the garum should be absorbed by the nuts and evaporated by the heat. You don’t want the cashews to become soggy. Once they cool, they should still be crunchy, with a savoury, salty crust.

Excerpted from Foundations of Flavor: The Noma Guide to Fermentation by Rene Redzepi and David Zilber (Artisan Books). Photographs by Evan Sung.

I noticed recently Mana was advertising for a ‘Chef of Fermentation’. That’s quite a specific job title in a hospitality marketplace that’s struggling to find sous chefs and KPs. But when you’re on a mission to net that second Michelin star it’s best to stay true to your culinary direction and gut feelings (sic). 

Garum will certainly be on the kitchen to-do list for the new recruit. It entered the conversation early on in my first visit to the Ancoats Manchester game-changer. I’d already been impressed by dishes such as smoked yakitori eel, glazed with roasted yeast and blueberry vinegar, and Dungeness crab baked in hay celeriac and masa.

Underneath that shell the oyster dish that leant on chicken garum

Chef patron Simon Martin had talked us through both. Next up was a raw oyster tucked taco style into a cabbage leaf with fudge miso, chicken fat, English wasabi, pine salt and chicken garum. In mid-explanation he was surprised by my knowledge of garum’s back story – the fermented fish sauce used as a condiment in the cuisines of Ancient Greece and Rome, not a million miles away from Thai fish sauce Nom Pla..

Simon had adapted garum to incorporate chicken. At his culinary alma mater, Rene Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen, they offer a whole palette of garums. Look at this beauty: rose and shrimp garum with a suitably rose-tinted description of what is essentially a whack of umami-rich funk. 

Rose shrimp garum symbolises Noma’s innovative take on ancient traditions

“We take shrimps, water and salt, with fresh roses and blend it. It is naturally fermented by the enzymes inside the shrimps. During the foraging season last year, the fresh roses were added and they have been fermenting together ever since. The garum is quite intense by itself but the roses bring balance to it with its floral notes and sweetness.”

There’s a whole chapter on garum in The Norma Guide To Fermentation (Artisan, £30) by Redzepi and David Zibler, the man he entrusted to run the restaurant’s Fermentation Lab. Another member of the team convinced them to diverge from fish as the base. Hence, chicken, bee pollen and grasshoppers. All made is temperature controlled cylinders, leaving nothing to chance in this stinkiest of production processes.

That would probably be heresy to John Niland, chef owner of St Peter in Sydney, Australia. His ethos, laid out in his cookbook/manifesto, The Whole Fish, is to use all of the creature. Like Nose to Tail meat cooking, the object is not to waste the 60 per cent or so of  a round fish that is routinely discarded in a western restaurant. Again one of the team (so democratic this new wave in the kitchen) came up with a sustainable garum.

“To produce the garum, start by adding 50 per cent of water to the total amount of heads, bones and scraps you have from small fish, such as sardine, mackerel, anchovies or trevally, then to this total quantity add 20 per cent of fine salt. Mix together, transfer to a mason (kilner) jar, seal and place in a circulator bath set to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Leave for seven days in the dark, stirring once daily. Make sure that the gall bladder is removed as it will make the finished sauce extremely bitter. This recipe is versatile and can be adapted to produce scallop, prawn (shrimp) or cuttlefish garums.”

In Niland’s follow-up book, Take One Fish: The new school of scale-to-tail eating (Hardie Grant, £26, to be published August 5) he goes one challenging step further with a recipe for custard tart, made with a sardine garum caramel made using the head, bones and scraps of sardines.

Imperial Rome was an enthusiastic consumer of garum (or liquamen)

Leaving aside today’s state of the art equipment, it is a method the Ancients would have recognised. Garum was a fermented fish sauce used as a condiment in the cuisines of ancient Greece, Rome, and Byzantium. Liquamen was a similar preparation, and at times the two were synonymous. It enjoyed its greatest popularity in the Roman world.

Pliny the Elder derives the Latin word garum from the Greek γαρός (garos), maybe a type of fish, and states that it was crafted e from fish intestines, with salt, creating a liquor, the garum, and a sediment named (h)allec or allex. A concentrated garum evaporated down to a thick paste with salt crystals was called muria – packed with protein, amino acids, minerals and B vitamins, so not far off today’s soy sauce.

After the liquid was ladled off of the top of the mixture, the remains of the fish, called allec, was used by the poorest classes to flavour their farinata or porridge. 

The finished product—the nobile garum of Martial’s epigram—was apparently mild and subtle in flavor. The best garum fetched extraordinarily high prices, and salt could be substituted for a simpler dish. Garum appears in many recipes featured in the Roman cookbook Apicius. For example, Apicius (8.6.2–3) gives a recipe for lamb stew, calling for the meat to be cooked with onion and coriander, pepper, lovage, cumin, liquamen, oil, and wine, then thickened with flour.

The traditional way of creating Colatura d’alici from salt and anchovies

And so to Colatura d’alici. I hastened to purchase a vial of this intense stuff (it translates fetchingly as anchovy drippings) after one of my favourite chefs, Jeremy Lee of Soho’s legendary Quo Vadis recommended it in Observer Food Monthly.

He  wrote: “Alici is the essence of anchovy and it’s a very precious condiment. It comes in a very small bottle, like a bottle of perfume. It’s not cheap, but it’s relatively easy to get, and a little goes a long way. It’s never gone off – well, not that it lasts long enough to find out. I get it from Andy Harris at the Vinegar Shed (£26.50) and use it sparingly. It’s an elegant variation on using Worcestershire sauce in something, but it’s not so overwhelming. There’s a softness to it that’s amazing, it adds a roundness. You just need a few drops.

“It’s extraordinary in braised lamb and hogget dishes – lamb and anchovy is such a fabulous combination. Pork too. I add the alici to porchetta tonnato as a final flourish, much as you would add a squeeze of lemon juice. I find the combination of alici and lemon juice incredible in all sorts of dishes. It’s an extraordinary ingredient and one I cherish.”

Colatura d’alici works well as a simple dressing for spaghetti

Like traditionally made Southeast Asian-style fish sauce, but with a much longer ageing process, colatura is concocted with just anchovies and sea salt. For colatura anchovy fillets and salt are layered in wooden barrels (chestnut is good) and then set them aside in a temperature-controlled environment to ferment for up to three years. The liquid exuded ages into colatura, which is surprisingly unfishy. Still a health warning – this is mega pungent. But worth it.