Dish of the Day: Beer is the new wine
Beer is the new wine. Fine dining no longer requires an accompaniment of the grape variety; discerning drinkers are increasingly opting for a glass of craft over chardonnay. From the beer and food matching feasts hosted by breweries such as Shepherd Neame, Meantime and Thornbridge, the latter of which recently published a recipe book dedicated to the subject, to the chin stroking contemplation of a beer lover in the aisle of an off licence before dinner, there is an ever growing appreciation of the culinary potential of beer.
It’s no coincidence that chef Alyn William’s Michelin star restaurant at The Westbury has added the option of a beer pairing to his tasting menu. Beer matching has become far more sophisticated than opting for a Cobra with a curry.
And rightly so. Beer is a drink that comes in many more varieties than its traditionally ‘culinary’ counterpart wine, it can engage with those spicy and overpowering foods that wine can’t contest with and, well, you can enjoy drinking a lot more of it without ending up under the table.
Matching beer with food is an engaging art. It is more accessible than attempting the equivalent with bottles of vino and it is more affordable to play around with and experiment at your leisure.
The fundamental rules for beer matching are known as the “three Cs”: complement, contrast and cutting.
A beer complements the food when it shares similar flavours in such a way that the tastes blend and play with each other, bringing out the best in both. For example, you might pair a dark, malty imperial stout with a chocolaty dessert; something that would exaggerate the mutual richness. This can be the simplest way to involve those more unusually flavoured beers. Wells Banana Bread beer anyone?
Contrasting suits big flavours. If you can’t find a beer to match an overpowering food, just choose one that is so different that they both stand out. So sweet sticky ribs could be matched with a dry, sharp lager, or a caramel, biscuity bitter would contrast with a crisp salad. A rich, fruity, high ABV barley wine would challenge the bitterness of blue cheese, moderating the strong flavours of both in much the same way as chutneys or pickle do.
Cutting is when the taste of the beer quite literally ‘cuts’ through the flavour of the food. A common use of this is when super hoppy IPAs or pale ales are matched with fatty foods such as pork or game, making for a very refreshing combination.
A fourth ‘C’ sometimes mentioned is ‘cleanse’. Just like sorbets, light lagers are usually best for this; the fizziness of the beer does a great job of clearing any lingering flavours from your last dish.
Of course, the more you think about the three Cs, the more they begin to melt into one other. Some people find the sweetness of stouts contrast with the saltiness of seafood and oysters, while I personally find the smokiness complements them perfectly. The truth is, it is entirely subjective. Why one beer works for one person could be completely different to another. But the three Cs act as a good starting point to get the minding thinking critically about the flavours on the table, and provide yet another excuse for beer drinkers to spend all evening arguing about definitions.
Over the next few weeks on the blog I’m going to be putting together a beer and food matching menu of my own and will be looking in more detail at the choices I make for each course. If you have any suggestions or pairings that you think work particularly well, tweet me or post them in the comments below.
If you want to find out more about pairing beer with food I can recommend Thornbridge Brewery’s book: Craft Union, £14.95 from thornbridgbrewery.co.uk
For more fantastic beer art visit www.ohbeautifulbeer.com
Follow Will at @will_coldwell
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