eating & drinking: The egg and bottle race

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The Independent Culture
IT'S EASTER Sunday, and I assume you're contemplating the prospect of some serious relaxing with family and/or friends. But is there enough to drink, or will you have to rush out and replenish supplies while the lamb is cooking and the Easter eggs are being secreted in the garden?

For me, today begins with the children's Easter-egg hunt, which I'll observe with either a cup of coffee or a bottle of beer (depending on how early the egg hunt starts).

The number of beers on the market just seems to keep on growing, even though it's arguable that we already have quite enough. But the brewers disagree, and just keep adding to the supply. What's more, some of the good new additions come from places you would hardly regard as likely sources of tip-top beer.

For example, Shanghai Imported Beer (Asda, 355ml, 99p), made in China by Foster's International and combining "oriental brewing traditions from Twenties Shanghai and modern technical innovation". I don't know about oriental brewing traditions, but I do know a fresh, clean lager when I taste one and, with 4.7 per cent alcohol, that's what you get.

For something more serious, I urge you to try Peroni Gran Reserva, a double-malted premium lager from Italy. It scooped a brace of medals (including supreme champion) in the beer and cider competition at the International Food Exhibition in February. It has a lovely light amber colour and good depth of malty flavour, but a refreshing zing in the mouth. Lager for grown ups, not louts, despite a hefty 6.6 per cent alcohol. It costs pounds 1.29 for 33cl at Asda, and pounds 1.39 at Safeway (from 18 April) and is worth it.

Serious beer lovers should hightail it to Oddbins for four guest beers from the Dublin Brewing Company. This relatively new company (established 1996) is already making some really stunning things, including the fabulous D'Arcy's 1740 Craft Brewed Dublin Stout, voted best stout at the 1998 Stockholm Beer Festival.

I think stout's a little heavy for egg-hunt watching, so I'm more inclined to sip on Maeve's Crystal Wheat Beer. This is liquid bread, with fine bubbles and smoothness in the mouth, minimal hop sharpness, clean and utterly winning. The richer 1798 Revolution Ale is made with roast barley and crystal malt, producing the most magnificent rubicund fullness (hold it up against a bright light); rich sweetness with a saline touch, perhaps from the Irish moss used in brewing, and a hoppy finish. This is a really wonderful ale, worth queuing up for.

Finally, Beckett's Gold Dublin Beer, similar in flavour to 1798 but somewhat lighter in every respect, including colour, and with more sharpness on the palate and more sweetness on the finish. This would be a better brew to carry on into the meal if you like something grainy with your Sunday lunch. All four cost pounds 1.69 for 500ml.

If you're a grape fiend, you'd better have something resting at home in preparation for sacrifice: wine doesn't like to travel too soon before it goes to work. Just in case, here are some ideas for a trad lamb lunch with roast potatoes, or just about any meal event later than 10.30am.

First, Argentinian Balbi Barbaro 1997, Mendoza (Safeway, pounds 9.99). This is a massive wine, strong and pungent with ultra-ripe blackberry flavour, nice oak sweetness, and with generous ripe tannins. It will love lamb, roasted with garlic and rosemary or braised in stock with tomatoes.

Moving down in price, the same meal could happily be served with Barbera D'Asti 1997, Tabarin Icardi (Oddbins, pounds 5.99), with appropriately tart fruit and a peppery accent. Moving down further still, consider Les Fontanelles Vin de Pays d'Oc 1998, Merlot-Syrah (Waitrose, pounds 3.99), succulent and sweet from the Merlot, touched with spice from the Syrah.

But if you're looking for something to accompany a mastodon-sized chocolate egg filled with genetically modified marshmallows, I'm afraid you're on your own.

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