• Paul's brewed a beer, so next up is planning for the birthday dinner. (Stomping Ground)
When he asked his Instagram posse for things to do in Melbourne, he wasn't expecting to be asked to brew beer and host a dinner.
By
Stephen A Russell

10 Aug 2017 - 2:58 PM  UPDATED 11 Aug 2017 - 12:56 PM

A holiday Instagram post inadvertently led to a fun day of brewing with Melbourne outfit Stomping Ground   and a dinner event – for River Cottage Australia’s Paul West.

Taking a rare opportunity to enjoy some down time with his wife’s family in Melbourne after the birth of their second son, he turned to his popular Instagram account to source ideas for family-friendly things to do and places for a casual bite to eat. He got hundreds of suggestions. That led to a chat with the guys at the Stomping Ground brewery and bar in inner-northern suburb Collingwood, and then an unexpected  offer. Head brewer Ashur Hall invited him to work together on a brand new beer and a sit-down dinner hosted at the funky warehouse venue later this month as part of Stomping Ground’s week-long first birthday celebration.

West jumped at the chance. “During my time on River Cottage I got to dip a toe into the craft brew world, but hadn’t been able to do a great deal with it,” he says. “To be able to expand on that and go and work with some pros was really great.”

His initial ideas for the beer were humorously evocative of the end of winter finally giving way to spring:  “What I had in mind was something that was nice and aromatic, like the opening spring flowers, still a little bit bitter, like the cold mornings, and something with a full body, like the one you’ve grown over winter.”

Stomping Ground rose to the challenge, suggesting a unique twist on a saison-style French farmhouse ale. “The full body part is not so much a typical saison, but farmers traditionally would use anything available, herbs, spices and fruit,” Hall says. “They had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at them.”

Embracing Victoria’s winter orange harvest of oranges, brewing day saw a fresh delivery of the juicy fruit and also an uncommon batch of Grains of Paradise, a pungent and peppery spice with a hint of citrus that fit the established flavour profile. Adding a dash of the latter, Hall – speaking the day before brewing with West - said the oranges would be used in several ways.

“We’ll slice some thin, make a bit of a candy to add later on and on brew day we’ll juice up a bunch up, get some zest off and reduce that on the stove to make a thick syrup and add that to the fermenter,” Hall enthused. “We’ll prob add a bit of zest as well.”

For his part, West really dug the guys’ hands on approach and good humour during his day at Stomping Ground, giving him plenty of inspiration for the accompanying dinner, to be matched with the beer, now dubbed Saison a L’Orange. “It was a fascinating experience and I’m so glad that they reached out to me, because I had a great day,  and of course there was a bit of beer drinking involved.”

Though he’s yet to finalise the menu, the focus on winter’s dying days and the turn of a new season is at the heart of his thinking. “I’ll be looking to encapsulate the fresh and light flavours of greens and citruses that are coming out in the garden come spring,” West says. “I’m undecided as yet, but I wouldn’t mind having a play around with the pagan rituals of the spring equinox, with pears and eggs and all those symbols of [Germanic goddess] Ostara that were so linked to the changing of the seasons and growing in nature that I think there’s probably a little bit of fun to be had riffing on that.”

West says it’s about time beer was taken more seriously in culinary circles as an alternative option to wine pairing. “Sure, beer is great for braising or making batters or marinating meats, but when it comes to pairing I think it’s something that people are starting to give more credit to as the craft brewing industry has reached a level of maturity,” he says.

“Beer is a feast for the senses. We’re in this fantastic golden age of brewing in Australia at the moment. There is so much to tempt the tastebuds.”

Paul West will host the beer-matched three-course dinner at Stomping Ground Brewery on August 23. Tickets cost $60. Watch  River Cottage Australia 6pm weeknights on SBS then on SBS On Demand.

Love the story? Follow the author @SARussellwords. With over a decade in Melbourne under his belt, this adventurous, imported Scotsman has never met a dish he hasn’t been prepared to tackle. 

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