A weekly beer + food column to support the launch of CAMRA’s new podcast, Pubs. Pints. People. You can tune in each week on Apple Podcast or Spotify or simply visit https://shows.acast.com/5ed0cbc8e3ae160820cc9477/

I don’t like to boast – well, I do like to boast but I haven’t really got that much to boast about. However, I do boast a very fine cellar; not so much the contents (though I have a few Trappists I wouldn’t kick out of bed) but the structure itself, built by my husband Fran with his own fair hands. It was no small endeavour; he excavated it out of the raised ground at the back of our house creating a cavern that stays blessedly cool even in the hottest summer. The back wall forms a wine rack, while three massive stone slab shelves provide the ideal place for storing beer; I can keep fruit, veg and cheese out there, too. It even has a few obligatory spiders’ webs.

Anyway, due to Lockdown our beer cellar was running low so my brave hunter/gatherer took his own fair hands on a beer hunt; naturally, I put a St Christopher round his neck, my lucky pebble in his pocket and made him chew a couple of raw garlic cloves before he left. Hunter/gatherer turned out to be the mot juste because he came back with several different ales, including two I’d not tried before, from award-winning Hunter’s Brewery at Bulleigh Barton Farm, Ipplepen, Devon – not a million miles from us. Apart from being a normal brewery, 60-barrel brew length with 4,000 gallon fermenting capacity, they have a dedicated conditioning room and can turn out 3,000 bottle-conditioned beers an hour. And, listen up, they bottle-condition all their beers – yes, all nine of them. I am seriously impressed, and place them carefully in my cellar to carry on conditioning.

One of them is Half Bore, which the brewer describes as an amber coloured session ale (4.2 per cent ABV); rather intriguingly, the ingredients include both honey and golden syrup along with malted barley and wheat, suggested pairing bangers ‘n’ mash. But I thought that hint of sweetness might be just what I needed for a chicken and chestnut pie and so it proved though, sadly, when I carefully opened the (unshaken) bottle it spurted over my kitchen floor, so the glass I poured was less like amber nectar and more the colour of our famous Devon mud from the brewery farmyard… However, the flavour was there, rounded and nuanced, hops coming through on a lingering aftertaste. And I trust their Old Charlie – “good malt feel in the mouth; dry, tangy, bitter finish” – proves a less lively lad when he’s uncapped. Incidentally, when he’s not doing DIY or out hunting, my own likely lad, Fran, photographs my beer dishes. And eats them.

Hunter’s chicken and chestnut pie (serves 4)

Around 225g pack diced chicken or four skinned thighs cut into chunks; two pork chipolatas, sliced into rounds (that’s my nod to the brewer’s bangers ‘n’ mash!); oil/butter for frying; half a pint of Half Bore (or medium dark session bitter); sprig of tarragon if available (I picked mine wild the other day); two large potatoes, peeled and sliced (though not too thinly); two medium leeks, thickly sliced; 50g chestnut mushrooms, wiped and cut into chunks; 50g tinned

chestnuts, halved (also available in pouches); ready-made puff pastry (I lazily got mine ready-rolled, too); one beaten egg for glazing the pastry.

Lightly sauté chicken and chipolatas in a little oil and butter to seal; add half a pint of malty bitter and around a quarter pint of water, then simmer for around 30 minutes; if used, add tarragon for final 2 minutes then remove it and discard. Meanwhile, boil spud slices until half cooked, then drain. Separately, boil leek chunks briefly – about 3 minutes – then drain. Drain chicken and chipolatas, reserving beer stock. Place sliced potatoes in bottom of pie dish, mix together chicken, chipolatas, mushrooms and leeks then spread over the potatoes; lastly, dot chestnuts on top of the mix then pour in enough beer stock to come about halfway up the pie dish. Allow to cool, then top with puff pastry and brush with egg wash. Bake just above the centre of a medium hot oven (200C, gas mark 5) for around 30 minutes, raising oven temperature to 210C, gas mark 6 for final 10 minutes until the pastry is risen and glazed golden brown – though check during cooking and if pastry starts to over-brown cover with a piece of foil. Thicken any remaining beer stock to make gravy, and serve with a green vegetable.

Susan Nowak

Susan Nowak, pictures by Fran Nowak

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