Beer and Bugs

Over the years, I have done plenty of beer and food matching and so, when I was offered an opportunity to undertake a tasting with some very different food and four Hobgoblin beers, to celebrate Halloween, I thought why not? The difference was that the food were bugs (from Eat Grub) but I have never been particularly squeamish; after all, being an East End City girl, one of my favourite foods is jellied eels; delicious! Urban legend also has it that my granddad used to let his Stilton go maggoty and eat them alongside the cheese in the same way as the Italians do with Cazu Marzu. And I have tackled crickets before, on a visit to a night market in Beijing, so the thought of chewing on little beasties sounded fun – and so it was.

The pack

The first combination was matched with Hobgoblin Gold. This 4.2% ABV golden ale was teamed with a sweet chilli and lime snack using crunchy roasted crickets; the texture was a bit like dry Rice Crispies. The snack’s citrus character complemented the grapefruit character of the beer and the spiciness in both built on each other, softened by the sweetness in the snack and the beer’s biscuit character. Not bad at all.

The next was the well known Hobgoblin Ruby (4.5% ABV) with Smoky BBQ crickets. The smokiness of this snack was dominant but the beer’s rich roasty malt and Christmas cake flavours were strong enough to cope and the fruitiness of the esters and sultanas gave balance.

Now it was time for some experimentation. The package also included a bag each of ready to cook crickets and grasshoppers so, using my culinary skills, I thought we’d give it a go. Despite trying a number of different ways, fried and roasted, and with various seasonings, the grasshoppers failed to make my taste buds leap! They were quite fiddly to prepare (you have to remove their wings first, which will probably put some of you off to start with) and the mouthfeel reminded me a bit of the shell of a cooked prawn. In comparison, the crickets were a delight. Lightly fried in olive oil and served with a dash of sesame oil and a little salt, they were perfect with the Ruby, bringing out the nuttiness in the beer and contrasting with its sweetness.

Going up in strength from the Ruby was Hobgoblin IPA. This was a treat for me as I tasted the bottled beer in one of the virtual judgings I have taken part in during lock-down and had admired it. Normally, you don’t get to know what beers you have been tasting until long afterwards but as it was a virtual judging, you could take the wrapping off the beer once the tasting was done. The canned beer is slightly less alcoholic than the bottle (5% ABV versus 5.3%) but the taste profile was the same: grapefruit and orangey aroma and flavour with resinous hops on the back of the palate, becoming more spicy, bitter and lingering. This was teamed with Peri-Peri crickets. The spicy character in both complemented each other while the beer’s dry bitterness provided a contrast to the snack’s sweetness and slight smoky character. The slight tartness in the snacks also matched the citrus character in the beer. My preferred combination was the IPA with the sweet chilli and lime crickets because the citrus character was greater and provided a stronger match. Delicious!
The final matching was a sweet one: the full flavoured Hobgoblin Imperial Ruby (6.6% ABV) with salted toffee crickets. The latter were a bit like a drier version of salted toffee popcorn. The beer’s nutty, sweet toffee character drew out the same tastes in the snack and the salt acted as a flavour enhancer whereas the spicy bitterness provides a counter balance. This was my second favourite match.

The unused blindfold

In conclusion, my view of this very unusual tasting is that bugs are definitely worth a go, even if you have to close your eyes! As it happens, Hobgoblin thoughtfully provided an blindfold in the package but I was brave enough to do the tastings without using it. Insects were definitely eaten by our ancestors some 1,000 years ago and you would be in good company: the Roman scholar, Pliny, wrote that Roman aristocrats favoured eating beetle larvae. And, finally, eating bugs for protein is more ecologically sound; so eat bugs to help save the planet but don’t forget the beer too!

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Christine Cryne