What with a global pandemic and multiple lockdowns my food and drink highlights for 2020 are sparse. Since March, restricted travel and hospitality closures have resulted in fewer meals out and pub visits…compounded even further by Mrs Bacchanalian’s pregnancy.
Even so, when approaching the end of any year it’s nice to look back.
I was somewhat lucky in that I did manage two trips away. In January I spent a long weekend in France, taking in Reims and Paris, in the company of Top of the Hops. I tasted loads of great Champagne which has to be my wine highlight of the year. I especially enjoyed getting a better appreciation of the different grape combinations and visiting the Pommery cellars. Wine drinking has been limited for the rest of the year – opening a bottle for one feels a bit excessive.
The food in France was great too. My first ever snails and a delicious steak tartare were enjoyed with cold beers at lunchtime at the bar of a bustling bistro in Reims. This stands out as one of my best food experiences of 2020 – and a totally normal one without all the distancing, masks and hand sanitiser.
When restrictions relaxed over the summer we had a short break on the Isle of Wight. A meal at the Smoking Lobster in Ventnor was exceptional and easily some of the best food I’ve had this year.
Locally, I did manage several pub visits for roasts, having very tasty lunches at The Bull Inn, The Red Barn and a great dinner at The George in Oxted, taking advantage of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme (remember that?!). These provided a welcome break in the Mrs’ morning (read: all day) sickness.
What about your ‘Golden Pints’?
As for beer, most notable drinking past March has been in the comfort of my own home. It hasn’t been a great year for enjoying cask beer, but I did order a minikeg from Larkins Brewery in Kent at the start of Lockdown 1, and have picked up a few pints of fresh beer here and there.
The brewery I have to vote as my top has to be one which is local to me – Westerham Brewery. They reacted well to the issues, quickly setting up a drive-through beer collection, an app to order beer to your table, a revolving selection of street food options, and way more outdoor seating options. They’ve also produced some excellent new beers in 2020 – my pick is Haná, an imperial Czech pilsner, which uses a rare ‘Haná malt from the Haná valley in Czech Moravia.
Other beers from Westerham were the new ‘Careful With That Axe, Eugene’, a rye bourbon red ale released for Halloween and also Audit Ale which is also an exceptional strong ale based on an old recipe.
I’ll also mention my local bottle shop, Hop Stop Oxted who set up a click and collect service. Every Tuesday they’d send an email with their stock that week which could be collected and paid for each Friday afternoon.
Each week I eagerly awaited the beer list and pre-ordered one or two special beers to enjoy. This got me into a routine of a Friday night Imperial Stout – a beer style to savour and strong enough for you to feel it after just the one. Probably the pick of these was ‘Weight of Brunch’ – a collaboration brew between Burnt Mill and Mikkeller.
A blend and fermentation of Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Brunch and Burnt Mill’s Weight of Gold was aged in Cognac barrels and the results were spectacular. Big stouts from Brewdog, Marble and Wild Beer also blew me away.
So my drinking habits have evolved somewhat in 2020 – there has been less quantity consumed socially, with one or two quiet powerful beers marking the end of the week – or more often, the day!
In 2021 I expect my habits of eating and drinking will evolve yet again with the arrival of a new member of the household in January…any parents want to offer some advice?