British Beer and British Food: Part II - Bar snacks to die for…
Whether it's biltong from South Africa, jerky from the USA and Canada, or Belgium’s humble frites, or even freeze-dried spicy insects – don’t even go there! - every country has its own take on bar snacks. But as one of the world’s leading purveyors of Craft Beer, Great Britain has got bar snacks to die for (and, in many cases, from…)
Britain’s contribution to the world of food is better tasted than seen. With many of its classic dishes resembling dog food, you have to close your eyes and put a LOT of faith in what you’re tasting. After that, it’s all hunky-dory. And the same is true of Britain’s relationship with Bar Snacks – those special little nibbly, gribbly, salty, greasy morsels you eat to soak up the booze (“to make the beer taste even better.” -Ed.)
"Let’s face it, bar snacks were invented by barkeeps as a way to make you thirsty, so you spend more money on beer. Shame on them!"
Britain is justifiably proud to call itself home to some of the world’s most respected Craft Breweries. The likes of England’s Camden Town Brewing, Sambrooks, St Austell (technically a Cornish brewery), Thornbridge and Buxton, or, from north of the border, Cromarty, Innis & Gunn, Tempest and Belhaven in Scotland, or Wales’s Tiny Rebel and Brains, and not forgetting the profusion of new Craft Breweries blazing a trail across Northern Ireland, are all testament to the British Isles’ talent for turning grain into gold! And it’s also home to some of the world’s finest bar snacks too.
Let’s face it, bar snacks were invented by barkeeps as a way to make you thirsty, so you spend more money on beer. Which is really too bad! Shame on them! But your salt-hit can be so much more than handfuls of pretzels or peanuts (don’t get us wrong, we’ve got nothing against Messrs Planter and Nabisco, they were both were geniuses). But peanuts, potato chips and pretzels are nothing special. And it’s impossible to eat just one. As a well-known brand of potato-based snack put it “Once you pop, you can’t stop!” so if you’re going to snack on something, then it might as well be a real man’s snack…
So, here’s our handy guide to the bar snacks of the British Isles…
Scotch Eggs: the barsnack of heroes
Like so many British foods, the humble Scotch Egg can be awesome or awful (but very rarely somewhere in between). Consisting of a hen’s egg wrapped in peppery, savoury sausage meat, all coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried (you may start to notice a theme developing here), the Scotch Egg is a masterpiece of beer-sponge technology and a culinary secret closely guarded by the brits. Unfortunately, a good, fresh Scotch Egg is a rare thing to find, and usually reserved to gastropubs, so if you see one on the bar menu, grab one. You won’t regret it!
Our rating: Sounds a bit weird, is a bit weird, actually amazing! 8.5/10 Perfect with:
Cornish Pasty: the miner’s best friend
It’s not just Champagne and Camembert that have protected geographic status these days, you know. Even the humble Cornish Pasty is protected and quite rightly so.
As part of its protected status, a Cornish Pasty must contain no less than 12.5% meat and 25% vegetable – usually beef skirt and a mix of potato, swede, carrot and onion - and be made in Cornwall (although they can be baked elsewhere). After 300 years, the debate still rages over whether crimp should be top or side, but traditionalists will tell you ‘side’ every time.
With a mix of pastry, veg and meat, this really is a meal in itself, and a perfect companion when you’re sinking a few session ales.
Our rating: It’s no wonder the Cornish want to keep it for themselves! 8/10 Perfect with: St Austell Proper Job Cornish IPA
Why is it eating something’s skin is always so delicious? Ok, so it sounds a bit ‘Hannibal Lecter’, but think about it: roast chicken skin, crispy duck skin, potato skins (if you’re a vegetarian) are all delicious and great with a beer. And pork scratchings - pork rinds to our colonial friends – are no exception. Everywhere that eats pig eats pork scratchings, but there’s no pork scratching like an English one.
Made in specialist pork scratching factories in towns across the Midlands region like Walsall, Warwick, Wolverhampton, Wigan and Tamworth (just to prove it’s not just towns beginning with W), these salty artery-clogging treats are a deal heavier than their continental counterparts like chicharrón, making them a perfect combination of the three main food-groups: fat, gristle and burnt bits, as well as a perfect companion for the very best British beers, especially Burton style bitters.
Basically, pickled onions are onions, scalded with boiling water, salted for 24 hours and then plonked in a jar of malt vinegar. Add herbs, spices, chilli, maybe a little sugar, and what comes out of the jar a month later is a wonder to behold. These golden-brown orbs add a perfect sweet-and-sour edge to really bring your pint of IPA, Bitter, Brown Ale or English Pale Ale to life.
Our rating: Sour, sweet, spicy, crunchy - what’s not to like? 7/10 Perfect with: Charles Wells Bombardier
A truly British confection, Pickled Eggs are pickled onion’s ‘cousin we don’t talk about’, and a cornerstone of fish & chip shops and pubs across the land. And nobody knows why. Consisting of boiled eggs with their shells removed and then pickled in malt vinegar, they’re weird, but weirdly good, especially with fruity, spicy, hearty English Bitter.
We need to talk seriously about pies. Pies are the kind of food God himself would eat if he went down the pub. It might sound blasphemous, but it’s true, and anyway he’s more of a trendy wine bar kind of guy.
In any case, these hearty confections of pastry – shortcrust pastry, salt pastry, hot water pastry, it’s all good! – and your meat are a magic addition to any bar menu. Served hot or cold (although cold is a definite winner), these pies are a heart-warming treat on a cold Sunday afternoon watching your local football team go down 5-0. And served with a pint in the pub afterwards, they’re heaven!
The grande classique of the pie oeuvre is the pork pie, hand raised and filled with finest chopped pork shoulder and belly, set in a savoury jelly. Our rating: Solid, porky, all hail the KING of pies 9.5/10
Then you’ve got the Scotch Pie, an open pie (it’s more of a tart, really) with minced lamb or mutton and breadcrumbs and a bunch of pepper. Our rating: The original wild-and-woolly pie from north of the border 7.5/10
And if that weren’t enough, you’ve got the gala pie: pork pie’s upmarket cousin with the added exoticism of a whole egg in its middle! Our rating: Good, but a bit la-di-da for the true pie enthusiast 6.5/10
Mass produced bar snacks
The United Kingdom is the world’s biggest per capita consumer of potato crisps, and the range of flavours is mind-blowing. You can choose from plain, ready salted, salt & vinegar, cheese & onion, prawn cocktail, pickled onion, beef, barbecued beef, beef & onion …and that’s the just the standard flavours. Some of the more outlandish flavours down the years have been hedgehog, grouse, tomato ketchup and haggis. Our rating: It’s all good! 10/10
Weird little puffed wheat snacks with a scampi and lemon flavouring. Faintly fishy, very crunchy, Scampi Fries evoke memories of summer afternoons in the beer garden with a bottle of lemonade. And after all these years, they’re still great on a hot summer’s day, but now with a pint of Craft Lager. Our rating: Crunchy, salty, a little bit fishy! 7.5/10
Like Scampi Fries, but bacon flavour. Our rating: Best avoided, unless you like to taste bacon every time you hiccup for the next two weeks. 4/10
Strange, knobbly sticks-insects of wheat (we think), covered in yeast extract - better known as Marmite, or Vegemite if you’re an Aussie - Twiglets are peculiarly British thing - even though they were invented by a Frenchman, Monsieur Rondalin way back in 1929 - specially designed for maximum thirst generation. Our rating: 7.5/10 (5 because they’re inedible to at least half the population, but a 10 for top-flight salty snack-factor! Still amazing with beer!)