Sharing a beer or two with the Stinking Bishop

Anything but cheesy… the Pivni bar in York
5 Apr 2013 @ 8.44 pm
| Food & drink

Anything but cheesy… the Pivni bar in York
Little gem… the Pivni bar in York

York CAMRA’s Nick Love enjoys a cheesy night out in one of York’s most handsome bars

You would expect the diminutive founder of an ever expanding bar and brewery chain that is Pivni to be in awe of its arguably more illustrious relations such as the York Tap, Euston Tap or Sheffield Tap and Brewery. It is having none of it however and is as determined as ever to plough its own furrow in the York real/craft ale scene.

It is after all, the foundation stone of what has become a big success story for Pivovar, a company that can boast some of the most handsome station bars in the UK and Pivni certainly does not exhibit any detectable inferiority complex.

Ever keen to push new horizons, it recently staged its second sold out beer and food matching event. This is a relatively new activity within the York bar scene and something that has a very real chance of catching on. Food matching as a concept is fairly well established, but has previously been the preserve of the wine community whilst beer has been the devalued poor relation.

The burgeoning of UK “craft” beer has seen a seachange in attitudes though and a realisation that just as much dedication, affection and artisanal skill goes into delivering a beer product with as complex flavours and characteristics as the fruit of the vine.

bernard-cernyBeer is the definitive complement to cheese in many cultures worldwide and is a more obvious bedfellow if you think about it. Both cheese and beer can traditionally source their roots back to the farm – and neither relied on a sunny climate to ripen fruit, or terroir to give them a particular characteristic.

Cheese is a dairy derivative and beer is made from grains harvested from farmers’ fields. The flavours of beer and cheese constellate in a way that wine cannot hope to emulate: yeasty, fruity, rich, toasty, earthy, floral, nutty, rich, caramel and toffee.

What attendees at the beer and cheese event at Pivni were presented with was a well thought out selection of six beers (bottled and draught) and six international cheeses that were meant to complement each other.

Hosts for the evening Khaled Abdulgani and Mark Slade combined well to provide tasting notes for the beer and cheese respectively and hints on what to look for really helped provide a backdrop before each individual tasting. Pivni’s manager Dan Robertson was on hand to impart tips on how best to get the most out of the combinations.

picos-blue-cheeseThe key to the success of the event from my perspective was the sheer variety of both beer and cheese. Pivni chose to ignore the conventional pairing approach of matching like with like – mild with mild or intense with intense and it worked well. There was an eclectic worldwide mix of both the conventional and whacky on both sides and some unlikely combinations really worked.

Here are some of my highlights…

The famous Stinking Bishop cheese’s funkiness (akin to three-month unwashed socks) was startlingly tamed by the wonderful Cerny Lezak dark lager from Bernard.

On the flip side the startlingly acerbic Cantillon from Brussels was emolliated by the creamy blue Picos Blue cheese from Spain.

Two very similar huge flavours from the Black IPA Emelisse and the Italian Ubriaco d’Raboso cheese actually complemented each other rather than creating the dissonance that huge personalities sometimes bring.

The cheese that probably caused the most discussion was the final offering from Norway that resembled smooth fudge, called Gjetost. Paired with a sweet, fragrant fruit beer it divided opinion throughout the room. We were lucky enough to also try an alternative beer called Old Foghorn, a dark sumptuous barley wine from Anchor Brewery in the US that released chocolaty fudgy notes when in consumed in combination with Gjetost.

old-foghorn-beerI revisited Pivni a couple of nights after the tasting event to do a bit of people watching or “research” as I prefer to categorise it! It’s not hard to see why Pivni is thriving – it is satiating an ever burgeoning demand for craft beers and real ales from a growing band of artisan brewers. British brewing is indeed in rude health.

Perched on the end of the bar, it was fascinating watching a seemingly endless stream of customers who in the main were eager to explore the myriad of different styles and flavours of the beers on offer. I can’t recall once hearing “a pint of bitter please” or “half a lager”. The punters were inquisitive, but using a new lexicon that would have been alien in a pub a few years ago.

They asked for beers that were malty; hoppy; astringent; citrusy; floral; resinous and chocolaty. There was a genuine curiosity and willingness to move outside their comfort zone. What was also interesting was that apart from taste, many (as with wine) had a long hard smell of their beverage before tasting. People hugely underestimate olfactory influence on their enjoyment of beer; after all, 80 per cent of taste comes from aroma.

Pivni attracts a wide and varied clientele proving that real ale and craft beer appeals to all socio-economic groups. When I was there, there was a virtual 50/50 split in gender which proves that the notion of beer as a male preserve is well and truly passé. With five well-kept real ales on handpump and another 12 taps serving alcoholic offerings from all over the world there is much to keep you occupied in your circumnavigation of planet beer.

The cheerful staff on the night I visited were kept constantly busy, not only with serving but also utilising their significant knowledge of their draught and bottled product range to help customers make informed choices. Speaking at the end of the evening with Mike Gamble behind the bar, he informed me that he had changed eight beers on his shift alone.

With this kind of perpetual throughput, York drinkers will never grow tired of visiting this little gem in Patrick Pool to see what new selection of beery delights await their palates.