Here’s a fact for you. There are over 800 breweries in the UK, and only 2% of brewers are women. As the females of the species, beer-drinking has become a lot more popular with women over the past decade. But I’ve still been to bars with male friends who order a spirit and mixer while I order a beer, and the well-meaning but clueless bartender STILL pops the vodka and coke in front of me and the beer in front of my male companion.
Which is why I was really excited to be invited along to a ‘Ladies Love Beer’ evening with Beer Sommelier Cheryl Cade, who looks after the Foreign and Bottled Beer Bar at Norwich Beer Festival. Plus, the venue, Neighbourhood in East Village, Stratford, is only a couple of tube stops from my house, which made it v. handy to get to. Apart from severe delays on the Central line. Cheers TFL.
Proceedings kicked off with a cocktail, aka how all proceedings of any kind should definitely kick off. This one was a bit different to the usual though, as we sipped on a Pina Colada-inspired beer cocktail. Yep. I talked beer cocktails not that long ago with a House of Peroni Cocktail Masterclass, and they’re something I can totally get on board with. Especially when they’re this tasty-looking.
A traditional Mexican beer cocktail, if you’d thrown this into my hand in a bar without telling me it had beer in, I wouldn’t have guessed. It was very light, refreshing and easy to drink, with summery coconut vibes almost making me forget I was in East London. Holiday drink perfection.
First up, we used a variety of popcorn flavours to work out the best kinds of pairing. The popcorn arrived in three flavours – the Neighbourhood house popcorn which was maple flavoured, a bacon seasoned popcorn and a chilli popcorn. We tried different ways of combining the popcorn and two lagers – eating then drinking, or sipping when there was already some popcorn in our mouths.
Cheryl told us that hops accentuate heat in food – so if you’re having a curry, a pale ale is actually a better option than a hop-heavy lager. The ones we tried out were the Krusovice, which Neighbourhood have in HUGE kegs above the bar area, and an unfiltered lager. We chatted about the ways in which drink can work with food – be it complementing through similar tastes, contrasts that bring out different flavours from the food, or cutting – cleaning the mouth and cleansing the palate. FYI, more carbonated beers are really good for palate cleansing. When you’ve got wine with your meal, you end up with layers of flavour, unlike carbonated lagers. Now ya know.
After we’d snacked on all the popcorn and finished our lagers, the next course was a plate of skewers served up from the Neighbourhood kitchen – lamb, chicken and halloumi.
We also found out that male hops are much fattier than female ones – in fact, the only country that regularly uses them in brewing is Britain. There’s actually a law in Belgium that a male hop can’t be planted within 5m of a female one – how’s that for girl power in the hop world?!
For our final tasting, Neighbourhood served up a trio of their desserts – a chocolate brownie and strawberry sundae, raspberry Eton Mess and a Kahlua coffee. To go with dessert, we tried a banana-based beer which went AMAZINGLY with the meringue – the creaminess brought out the banana flavour amazingly.
It turns out that women actually have a strong place in the history of brewing – dating back to the middle ages, where women brewed at home and were referred to as ‘brewsters’ – the female version of brewers. One woman in particular who made a huge impact on brewing was Saint Hildegard of Bingen, whose work in the early 1100s informed botanical and medicinal work for decades to follow.
Neighbourhood East Village is a really nice little space, with a real community vibe and loads of seating, great beers and an interesting food menu. I definitely want to hop over on a sunny afternoon and grab a bite to eat there, as the big glass windows and stylish furniture make for an airy, welcoming place to hang out.
I had the best time learning about beer and food from Cheryl, and definitely learnt some things I didn’t know about women and the brewing industry