Well listeners. This Swindon in 50 Drinks post No 10: Arkell’s Ales, is something of a milestone. Not because it’s the 10th post in the series. Oh no. Rather, it’s because today is the day after our current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, put the country into a condition that is lockdown in all but name. The reason for that being the pandemic Covid-19 – also known as the coronavirus.
It’s all rather frightening TBH. And of course it’s curtailed my plans to progress this series of the blog – for obvious reasons. But – I happened to have a couple of bottles of Arkell’s in my store. Thus this post – the last for a while.
Me on YouTube with a rather unfortunate stop point!:
About Arkell’s Brewery
If you’ve got a copy of Swindon in 50 Buildingsyou’ll be familiar with Arkell’s. If you haven’t got a copy – why not? I have some – get in touch. 🙂
‘John Arkell was a remarkable man. Born into a farming family in 1802 in Kempsford, South Gloucestershire, he emigrated to the New World in his late twenties and took with him a group of local people who sought a refuge from the tough conditions endured by agricultural folk at that time. It was a brave step.
They arrived in Canada and established the small community of Arkell – which still exists today – but three years later, John returned for love. His fiancée preferred to live in England so he came home to marry and set up home in Stratton St Margaret, near Swindon, where he grew barley on his farm.’
The step from there to brewing beer was an obvious one. At that time, many pubs and even private homes, brewed beer. But John Arkell’s foresight saw the potential for supplying beer to a string of other pubs along with his own, recently-bought Kingsdown pubs.
With immaculate timing, he picked a moment when Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Swindon’s founding father, chose Swindon to site his GWR Works. Thus the once-sleepy market town was already growing into a thriving – and thirsty – industrial heartland.
The Beers – No 10: Arkell’s Ales
It’s clear that Arkell’s have a rather large selection of beer – and I only have two of them. The two that you see in the picture below.
‘Since its release in 2013 to celebrate our 170th anniversary, our lager, 1843 Craft Lager, has become one of our most popular, award-winning brands.
This is a classic ‘craft’ lager brewed using pale malt with some wheat added for extra body and mouth feel and traditional lager hops. It is gradually fermented at a much lower temperature and matured for 3 weeks in tank at an even lower temperature to produce a pleasant, light, refreshing beer.
This year as part of our 175th anniversary and after consulting some of our loyal drinkers we have decided to update its name to Malthouse Craft Lager, named after the old Malthouse that was built here at the brewery by our founder John Arkell in 1877.’
And that’s it for now, for #swindonin50rinks See you on the other side I hope!
From thePeroni official website we learn that the Peroni family conceived this beer in 1963. A beer to embody Italian values of quality and craftsmanship. They describe the beer as being brewed through three generations of master brewers. According to them: ‘Peroni Nastro Azzurro uses only the finest ingredients, including our exclusive Nostrano dell’Isola maize.’
Thus, they say, they deliver a beer that is crisp and refreshing with a delicate balance of bitterness, citrus and spicy aromas with a fast, clean finish. I have no sense of smell so can’t comment on the aroma part.
THE NOSTRANO DELL’ISOLA MAIZE
The maize used by Peroni they obtain from the small town of Bergamo in northern Italy. The town produces the maize only for Peroni.
Lying in the Lombardy region is a fertile plain, between the rivers of Adda and Brembo, known by the locals as the ‘island earth’. Here are perfect conditions for growing maize. An absence of frost, the cilmate and the soil – irrigated by melted snow from the Alps – creates this ideal environment.
The Peroni Brewery
To learn about the Peroni Brewery visit Beer and Brewing.ComThey say: ‘Peroni Brewery, founded as the Birra Peroni Brewery in 1846 by the Peroni family in Vigevano, Italy. In 1864 Giovanni Peroni moved the brewery to Rome, where it soon began to prosper. The first advertising for Peroni beer appeared in 1910 and helped popularize the brand …
… The second largest brand is Nastro Azzurro, meaning “Blue Ribbon” in Italian. Nastro Azzuro is a premium lager at 5.1% ABV launched in 1963.
First brewed in 1859, this beer is made with a blend of quality ingredients and a barely-changed brewing process. According to the Beers of Europe website what you can expect from this beer is a delicate citrus hop base and a top note of wholemeal bread. All I know is that it’s a tasty and refreshing 4.6%.
Heineken bought the company in 1996. Nothing is what it seems eh?
As for the label on the bottle: It appears that, in 1942, Moretti’s nephew noticed a dapper chap in a restaurant in Udine. He asked if he could take the man’s picture. The diner said ‘yes’ in exchange for another beer. From that day to this he adorns every bottle of Moretti beer.
The Da Vinci Restaurant and Pizzeria
These Swindon in 50 drinks posts are more about the drink than the venue. But I have to say, I have a soft spot for this place. The food is good and good value. The staff are friendly. And – you get a tablecloth and linen napkin. A rare treat these days. If you’ve not been then give them a try.
A blustery Saturday morning, in a series of seemingly endless blustery/gale force/wet days in early 2020, saw four female friends gather for coffee, a warm chocolate drink, churros and chat.
Hot Chocolate History
Drinking chocolate is a delight almost as old as the sun itself. It certainly dates back to The People of the Sun – the Aztecs.
They gave high-regard to cocoa beans for their culinary pleasures and traded in them too – using them as currency. During cultural festivities and ceremonies, they exchanged cocoa beans as gifts.
The Aztecs began roasting fresh cocoa beans and making a chocolate drink from it. But their recipe is miles apart from the drink we know today.
The Aztecs took their chocolate drink cold and blended it with chill peppers and even mulled wine. Indeed, chocolate with chill in it has become popular in recent years.
HOW DRINKING CHOCOLATE ARRIVED IN EUROPE
Back in the early part of the 15th century, the explorer Cortez, discovered chocolate and introduced it to Europe. In Spain they took the chocolate as a hot beverage, sweetened and without the spicy additions. For over a century the Spanish protected their drinking chocolate recipe.
The superiority of chocolate (hot chocolate), both for health and nourishment, will soon give it the same preference over tea and coffee in America which it has in Spain.” — Thomas Jefferson
NB: Los Gatos serve churro (one churro – multiple churros) on Saturday mornings from 10am – to about 11.30 am I think. After that it’s lunches. Dipped into a cup of hot chocolate, this Spanish spin on doughnuts is divine. It gets busy so go early.
And this piece from The Londonist details the history of drinking chocolate in London.
According to them, Samuel Pepys infamous diary holds an early record of drinking chocolate. He writes, after the 1661 coronation of King Charles II, he used drinking chocolate as a stomach settler following his liberal libations of the previous night.
‘Drinking chocolate was also available in the new-fangled coffee houses (coffee only arrived in London around five years previously), but this was often an inferior, watered-down version. Plus, most coffee house visitors were there for the caffeine, which cocoa didn’t offer in such quantities.’
Hello listeners. Here I am taking one for the team and continuing my tour round Swindon in 50 Drinks. If your perception of sherry is the dark, somewhat sweet stuff you remember your granny drinking in a schooner at Christmas – prepare for a surprise. Because there’s as much variety with it as there is with other wines. The fortified wine you associate with grandma and Christmas is more than likely Harvey’s Bristol Cream – or something similar. And you might be even more surprised to know that chilled is how you should serve it – according to them.
The merchant William Perry founded Harveys, in Bristol, in 1756. During the 19th C, Harveys turned themselves into one the biggest importers of sherry, from the Bay of Cadiz to Bristol.
In 1882, John Harvey II and his brother Edward created Harveys Bristol Cream from a blend of Fino, Oloroso, Amontillado and Pedro Ximenez grapes. If, like me, you can’t bear this stuff, rejoice! For there’s a world of sherry to explore. And the best news is that you can do your exploring right here in Swindon, at the Los Gatos tapas restaurant in Old Town.
What is Sherry?
A treasure of the wine world aside, according to Wine Anorak, sherry is ‘a fortified wine made from vineyards in the far south of Spain, where extreme heat—summer temperatures regularly exceed 40 ºC—is countered by cooling breezes from the Atlantic.’
With thanks to Los Gatos for some useful notes.
Sherry comes only from one small Spanish region. 50 million bottles are produced each year from 7000 hectares of vineyards. After the Spanish themselves the UK is the largest sherry consumer – 30%. No surprises there methinks.
Most sherries come from the Palamino grape variety. And doesn’t that sound like a horse? Only Palamino, Moscatel and Pedro Ximinez can be used for Sherry.
Every bottle has the Jerez or Manzanilla stamp and a unique number.
A Sherry Sampling Session
Myself and my chum Jo Garton, are both somewhat partial to a drop of the Spanish stuff. So not long back we two and a third friend headed to Los Gatos on Devizes Rd for a little libation. Or two. Chilled to perfection and with a bowl of salted almonds there are few things finer.
My friend Jo favours a Pedro Ximénez – the darkest one in the pictures above. That’s still too sweet for my palate. I like a Fino. Or, my fave, a Manzanilla – the middle one you see. I believe Amontillado is the third sherry in the pictures.
Sherry Tasting Notes
Los Gatos kindly gave me some tasting notes about sherry to use in this blog, so what follows is thanks to them.
Only produced in the town of Sanlucar
Very pale, straw-yellow colour.
Pungent, yeasty nose with hints of almonds and camomile.
Dry, fresh, delicate and nicely bitter on the palate, with salty notes.
Always serve well chilled.
Great with seafood
Amber to pale mahogany colour
Slightly pungent, with a deep, complex, nutty nose.
Full and smooth on the palate, with a dry finish and a persistent aftertaste.
A good all rounder with cheese and meat
Extremely dark mahogany colour and dense, syrupy appearance.
Deep aromas of dried fruits (raisins), gaining complexity with ageing: toffee, liquorice…
Very sweet taste, with a smooth, velvety texture. Very long aftertaste.
Great with bitter chocolate desserts or poured over vanilla ice cream
This post forms an exception to a general rule, that this blog only covers the borough of Swindon, rather than extending into Wiltshire.
But I enjoyed this place so much that I decided to break my own rules. Not to be confused with Sarson’s the vinegar people, Sarsens restaurant in Marlborough is wonderful! Or at any rate myself and my companions thought so. And anyway, it turned out that one of the chefs grew up around the corner from where I live in Grange Park. So if the chef is from Swindon that’s enough of a link for me!
Visiting the restaurant was the idea of my friend and client Sandra. In her business capacity as Fabulous Functions UK – and more about them here– she had one of her Instagram posts ‘liked’ by Sarsens. We’d been looking for somewhere to go shortly before Christmas – but fittingly enough most places we tried had no room at the inn. As it were. But we got lucky with Sarsens. Oh boy did we?!
And we’d have known nothing about them had they not liked Sandra’s Instagram post. Proof positive of the power of social media.
Sarsens restaurant and baris almost a year old. It’s co-owned by Nathan, the chef I spoke of and Connor, who is front of house. They’re on Marlborough High Street – at the end near St Peter’s Church. Good to know what with Marlborough having a rather long High Street!
What they are is a British small plates restaurant. They serve plates designed for sharing that, as their website says, showcases seasonal, local and sustainable produce. Just as important as the delicious food in this eatery, is that the welcome is warm and the service exemplary.
We really can’t praise them enough.
As you can see from the footnote on the flyer, they won the Marlborough in Bloom best commercial garden award. On a night in December we were unable to see it – such a shame. But still! A reason to go back to Sarsens Restaurant Marlborough when the nights are lighter eh?
Not that one needs an excuse – we found the food sublime. All of it – everything we had – it was all consistently amazing. One of the plates we had was turkey. No Ghandi’s flip flop here! Oh it was so moist and so tender. It was to die for. As was the duck. And the salmon. And everything TBH.
There now follows – to give you a flavour (Ha!) of the decor and the food, a few photographs. I loved the glass panel/divider – from a cafe in France. That is gorgeous.
According to the Beerwulf website, lager is bottom-fermented – whereas ale is top fermented. So ALL lager is beer but not all beer is a lager.
Lager, the website tells us, is a collective name for many bottom-fermenting beer styles. The colour of them can vary from dark brown to light blonde and the alcohol percentage can range from alcohol-free to over 10%.
Origin of the wordLager: the word’s root is in the German word lagern – meaning ‘to store’. Bottom fermentation beers need a longer rest period after the main fermentation that occurs in cold conditions (around 0 degrees) compared to top fermenting beers. This rest period (or storage) is called lagering and that is why we call all these beers lager.
The difference between lager and Pilsner: Pilsner is a type of later. It’s named after the Czech city of Plzen. Bavarian brewer Josef Groll first brewed Pilsner in 1842, when the good folk of Plzen asked him to brew a good, stable beer. He brought with yeast from Bavaria – the yeast used to brew lagers.
Founded by Tom Gee, the brewery is based in Swindon and Cricklade.
The Pilsner that we drank in The Eternal Optimist is a special brew for the bar. And, I have to say, it’s jolly nice. I’m not an expert at all but I thought I detected a malty hint to it. Either way, I liked it a lot.