Sir John Falstaff, that roistering roguish Shakespearian character, famously loved his ‘cakes and ale.’ Who wouldn’t?
I’m partial to cakes and ale myself, especially if there are meat and spuds on the menu as well, so the offer of a Beer Lovers’ Break in beautiful Lake District surroundings seemed like a perfect combination. I wasn’t disappointed.
The break combines a dinner bed and breakfast stay at Briery Wood, a country house hotel and restaurant at Windermere, with a guided tour around Hawkshead Brewery in Staveley.
Not only do visitors get to sample the wonderful Hawkshead beers at the brewery, each dish on the dinner menu at Briery Wood has a Hawkshead beer as one of its ingredients.
The familiar steak and ale pie has been a staple of pub grub for years, but Briery Wood’s chefs have taken the combination of food and beer to a whole new level with the likes of cod cheeks served with Windermere Pale Ale relish, beef in Dry Stone Stout and chocolate tart with Damson Stout ice cream. Yummy!
The Beer Lovers’ Break is a partnership between Hawkshead Brewery and the Lake District Country House Hotels group that runs three neighbouring hotels on the Ambleside road north of Windermere.
Our visit began with an afternoon visit to the brewery, a Cumbrian success story thanks to East Yorkshireman Alex Brodie, a beer lover who had experienced the worst of mass-produced beers both at home and abroad.
He founded his brewery using secondhand equipment in a farm barn just outside picturesque Hawkshead village. In just four years, trade was so good that he upped sticks to the other side of the lake and into a busy little timber-faced retail park where shoppers seek outdoor clothing and bikes.
When a modern glass-fronted building next door came empty, the brewery moved in and created a food-and-drink beer hall, with two impressive stainless steel vessels standing proudly inside the two storey entrance, and two airy dining floors with sturdy pine tables and chairs.
On the Sunday when Mrs B and I visited, the special lunch was traditional and hearty; roast chicken with croquettes of stuffing, a goodly portion of steaming hot roast spuds, a side dish of veg and a jug of hot gravy. Unpretentious it was, but very tasty. Would we be hungry enough again for dinner at the hotel?
Pleasantly replete, we were shown around the brewery and learned how brewing beer was a labour of love for head brewer Matt Clarke and his small team. The brewery has the capacity to produce
220 36-gallon barrels of beer a week, and has a core range of beers such as Brodie’s Prime and Windermere Pale.
Matt, a New Zealander who uses hops from his homeland in some of his recipes, is constantly experimenting with new brews. One such is Great White, a cloudy wheat beer flavoured with orange peel and coriander seeds. I didn’t much fancy that one – too weird for me – but by ‘eck that hoppy brown Brodie’s Prime is more-ish and you know you’ve supped summat.
Onwards and northwards through bustling Windermere to Briery Wood, a hotel with a bit of history to it. Built for the Earl of Lonsdale’s Estate, it was once the home of the Earl’s head gardener who developed the lovely grounds that today often serve as a backdrop for wedding parties.
The high-ceilinged Victorian hotel is repro-traditional in its furnishing, and our light and roomy bedroom, with a view through the trees over the lake, had a whirlpool bath; ideal for bubbling away the stiffness of a 90-minute drive in a small car.
I wanted to find out how Hawkshead beer was translated into a dinner menu, so I had a word with John Bell, a Workington lad who returned north as second chef to Daniel Brierley and worked with him on devising the menu. After Daniel moved on, John took over as head chef.
“Generally, it’s a lighter coloured beer for lighter flavouring,” says John, whose previous head chef job was at a country house hotel in North Wales. “We really enjoyed experimenting.
“We linked up with Hawkshead Brewery because we always like to use locally sourced ingredients.”
To mention some examples, the pork belly starter is marinated in Lakeland Gold for a day before slow cooking, Five Hop Chicken is served with a sauce made from the well-hopped but fruity Hawkshead Cumbrian Five Hop beer, and beef cheek is slow braised in Dry Stone Stout.
The beery influence is generally quite subtle, but we found it more obvious in the desserts, especially in the beer-based sauce in which I drenched my Wild Wheat Ale cake. Oh yes, cakes and ale, indeed!
“Beer Lovers’ Break” at £99 pppn is available on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday.