Published on July 7th, 2014 | by Alastair Gilmour


Summer like it hot

Make the most of a spell of warm weather with a good, old-fashioned picnic accompanied by some beery recommendations from Alastair Gilmour

Café culture is a way of life these days, while al fresco dining is de rigeur and has developed into a very British occupation. Barbecue equipment is available from almost every retail outlet with hi‑tech gas burners and single-use kits lined up by the yard, all set for the patio.

But preparing a picnic is no picnic. Cellophane-wrapped, sweaty cheese sandwiches are no substitute for fresh baguettes crammed with mature Cheddar lathered with chutney, so with a little care and attention, a memorable occasion is there for the asking. Homemade potato salad is worth the effort and you deserve to push the boat out during a recce around the deli cold meat and pie section.

The traditional picnic is a chapter from another age, a bygone era when things were “spiffing” and Enid Blyton’s Famous Five would take themselves off to somewhere adventurous, carrying “homemade ginger beer and macaroons”. Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog may have lapped up their fizzy drink, but today’s adults have an infinite choice of bottled beers to wash down pork pies, chicken thighs and sandwich combinations limited only by your imagination.

In a similar vein, Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows harks back to simpler, less complicated days, even though they involved violent confrontations with stoats and weasels.

“The Mole begged as a favour to be allowed to unpack it all by himself and the Rat was very pleased to indulge him and to sprawl out at full length on the grass and rest while his excited friend shook out the tablecloth and spread it, took out the mysterious packets one by one and arranged them in due order, still gasping: ‘O my! O my!’ at each revelation.”

The language of beer is well suited to picnics and is as poetic as the descriptions on wine bottles.

Mown grass, butterscotch, hazelnut, tobacco, lemon, coriander – a trek through fields, ferns and wildflowers on the way to your favourite riverside spot will release all those aromas which will be echoed by your choice of beer.

And your picnic will be enhanced if you choose a beer that either complements the menu or is a clever contrast. You can partner strong flavours with unassertive beer so that the food takes centre stage or choose a big beer that stands up to the dish.

“When all this was ready, the Rat said: ‘Now, pitch in, old fellow!’ and the Mole was very glad to obey.”

So, pop the following into the rushing stream while the picnic cloth is spread and the feast is unveiled.

Hawkshead Lakeland Gold (4.4% abv) is from the eponymous brewery in the Lake District, kicked off in July 2000 by former BBC World Service presenter Alex Brodie, and now operating out of a fabulous facility – with added Beer Hall – at Staveley, near Kendal. Hawkshead Gold is a hoppy, bitter, golden ale with complex fruit flavours – unpack the chicken and ham pie and delicate meat and fish terrines, then lie back and unwind.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (5.6% abv). One of California’s finest inhabitants and the brewery’s flagship beer since it launched in 1981, this is heavy on Cascade hops, releasing pine and grapefruit aromas with a malty fruitness combining on the palate. At this strength it’s one to fall back on.

Jennings Cocker Hoop (4.2%) is brewed in Cockermouth in Cumbria on the banks of the River Cocker – a golden pale ale that introduces itself with a fresh citrus aroma. Its laid-back, refreshing character is just right for a picnic – with its lacings of hop perking up the appetite. And, when you’re cock-a-hoop, you’re in good spirits. See, told you.

“Now, pitch in, old fellow!”

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Alastair Gilmour

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