So you think you know craft beer? You need to talk to Tim Ashwood of Nickeldime

So you think you know craft beer? You need to talk to Tim Ashwood of Nickeldime

Chef Tim Ashwood of Nickeldime breaks down the basics of craft beer, from trends to food pairings to even his own special concoctions

Here at Honeycombers, we may know the best places to drink craft beers, but when it comes to the finer details…we admit we could use an expert in the field. No one loves their beer more than Australian-born chef Tim Ashwood, and with experience in a number of renowned cafes (Little Henri in Melbourne and Wild Honey in Singapore), we knew we had found our man.

Right now, Tim helms the kitchen at Nickeldime, relaxed spaces in River Valley and Novena that remind you of Melbourne’s laneways and makes you wish it was your local. It’s all brick walls, graffiti and retro leather banquettes, but most importantly for me, it boasts a stellar selection of craft beers. Tim lets us in on the finer details of craft beer drinking, food pairing, and even how he creates IPA cheese and beer battered fish and chips. Ladies and gents, get settled for a lesson in craft beer…

First up: What makes a craft beer good?

The malts, yeast, brewing techniques and quantity of ingredients affect the quality of beer. You can make pale ale using IPA ingredients. It’s like an APA with IPA ingredients. There are so many permutations and combinations. It’s lots of trial and error.

Craft beer has been on the rise in Singapore, what is your take on it?

You’ll never be out of options at Nickeldime. Photography: Yeo Huanghao
You’ll never be out of options at Nickeldime. Photography: Yeo Huanghao

Yes, it’s definitely on the rise! I think the craft beer scene now is similar to the craft beer scene in Australia five years ago. However, people are still not purchasing proper craft beer. Little Creatures isn’t really craft beer! The craft beer scene is like the wine revolution. Wine was once only seen as red and white. Then people started to understand vintages etc. If Singapore is like Australia five years from now I’ll be very happy. It comes down to gaining knowledge on craft beers. That’s what bars like us are for!

You’ve got 16 craft beers here at Nickeldime River Valley. How do you decide what to bring in? I spot a handful of Aussie beers: Stone and Wood… Pirate Life…

Stockade as well, that’s from NSW. We change it up depending on availability and freshness: we want it here within two weeks of being brewed. We tend to stick to the smaller breweries, which make smaller batches.

Beers are very specific, when you drink a Heart of Darkness beer you know it is from Vietnam, it has a unique taste – it starts quite dry but finishes a little bit sweeter, almost like a good bowl of pho. American beers are balanced and slightly on the sweeter side, Aussie beers are drier and less sweet. UK beers are generally very malty. The fruit beers also sell really fast! Our Passion Tank is really unique as it has a sour flavour from lactose, so it ferments similar to the way yoghurt does and ends up with a similar sour quality…

Break it down for us: What exactly is the difference between lager and ale?

Lager is a lot lighter and fermented at a low temperature. It’s a much cleaner beer, but still has some depth if the water and ingredients used are good. Ales are generally malty, because ale yeast needs more sugar to be activated, and it ferments at a higher temperature, up to about 24 degrees. Ales are best enjoyed slightly warmer; contain more of a caramel aroma and have better depth of flavour whereas lagers are more of a thirst quencher and enjoyed at colder temperatures.

How about an IPA?

IPAs chuck a lot of hops in it. Hops are a preservative; the acids added preserve the beer. IPAs used to be really hop driven, but nowadays they have started adding more malts to balance the flavour. This is because people nowadays cannot handle drinking such a strong IPA. IPA brewers are also really picky with the hops they use, so they use a good blend of citrus hops and other hops.

Lots of beers are described as ‘hoppy’. What exactly does that mean? I find that most people associate hoppy with bitterness…

No, hoppy doesn’t mean bitter. Hoppy means floral – well floral can be bitter –but it also can mean balanced as well. Hops, in my opinion, should be used to balance the beer. You’ve got malt that adds sweetness, and you’ve got hops that add that bitterness. So a good beer should be balanced, not too sweet, not too bitter, not too malty and not too hoppy.

How do you achieve the darker colour of stouts and porters?

We get that by roasting the malts and the oats. Typically for a stout, you use roasted oats while a porter is a stout that hasn’t been taken that far.

Let us in on the rules of beer and food pairing…

A beer pairing should be a conversation. You can pair it in two ways: complimentary flavours or contrasting flavours. Something like spicy Thai food will go well with really spicy pale ale. You can also pair light-tasting oysters with a citrus IPA or it can also pair with a stout. But ultimately it’s also down to personal preference, that’s why it’s a conversation.

You take things to the next level by infusing dishes on Nickeldime’s menu with beer…

So what we do is we take – with a lot of trial and error – a good IPA if you heat that to just below boiling temperature, and you whisk your cheese with it and when you pour it out, it sets like a cheese slice. And then you pour it out and let it melt over whatever you want to melt it on. The alcohol dissipates but the flavour remains.

Beer battered is really important because when you use the right beer it is sensational, you can still taste the beer. You get the citrus lemon taste that compliments the fish and chips. In fact, we use a sour beer specially for the fish and chips and because of how sour it is, when you cook with it, you get an amazing citrus taste.

Why don’t you use lagers instead of ales when you cook?

It’s because there’s not a whole bunch there, the flavour is too light and has not enough residual flavours. A lager cannot really add the depth of flavour that ale can. Singaporeans use Tiger or Anchor to make batters but the thing is you don’t really get anything out of it. When you make a beer batter, you want a high malt content and also good depth of flavour. This is to make sure you can still taste the fish, and the beer batter should also lift the fish. For example, stout makes candied bacon so it’s really about being adventurous.

What’s your take on beer tasting flights?

We do serve them, but we try to steer people away from them a little bit. I believe you can get a better experience talking to us and drinking a few pints every few days. Sour beer doesn’t taste so good at first, but your palate gets used to it and at the end of the first pint, you’re asking for your[…]

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