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How to pair food and beer - part two

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Nigel Sadler | 15:22 UK time, Thursday, 16 February 2012

My last blog post certainly seemed to arouse a great deal of comment, and I look forward to reading the feedback for this one with interest. In this second post I’m considering golden beers, and in particular two styles, wheat beers and lagers.

Once again we are for looking to see if a beer complements, contrasts or cuts the flavour of the food.

So first I’ll look at wheat beers, which includes weissbiers and witbiers. A good wheat beer is a very flexible partner to a great many different foods, from omelettes to couscous. Refreshing in nature with good carbonation levels, wheat beers will help lift and cut through a whole range of dishes.

Indian cuisine

Wheat beer goes well with many spicy Indian dishes.

Belgian wheat beers tend to display what are known as “phenolic” notes, slightly spicy and “clovelike” in character. German versions can elicit a fruity aroma, sometimes a bit like banana. Both types are a great partner to spiced foods, so think Asian cooking.

Indian dishes, particularly spiced meats, such as tandoori chicken or lamb, and lightly spiced foods like biryianis, dhals and bhajis, all find their perfect partner in a wheat beer. The subtle spiciness and slight malt sweetness of the beer can contrast or complement the dishes nicely. Mild creamy kormas, on the other hand, can actually be more suited to a darker, richer style of beer. But if you want something to cut through their richness then a clean, sharp wheat beer will do the job.

Thai cuisine has more delicate flavours, such as lemongrass, and often offsets sweetness against pretty fiery chilli action. Once again the wheat beers cope well, enhancing the delicate spice notes and taming some the heat. Belgian wheat beers work well with fresh crab cakes and a crunchy salad, or seafood pad Thai noodles, and seared ribs.

With Chinese food the increased carbonation level of wheat beers really does come into its own, cutting through rich, sweet and salty sauces, allowing the subtle meat and vegetable flavours onto the tongue. Try dim sum or crispy duck, washed down with a cool glass of German weissbier. Wonderful!

Peking vegetable dumplings 

Now, onto lager, the most popular beer style in the world. It’s also the simplest in many respects, though the range is huge, from the Czech pilsners, with their slightly sweet bready notes, to thinner, crisper north German versions, through to the Japanese super dry styles, and many other variations on the way.

Good quality pilsners are excellent with everything from Mexican salsa to battered squid or seafood, where the slight mineral accents in the beer accentuate the more delicate flavours of the fish. Pilsners are able to compete against chilli heat and strong spices. And they can cut through oily, fatty dishes too. This makes them perfect for many Asian dishes, like Chinese sweet and sour, or hot and creamy Thai curries, or spicy Indian food. And of course, you can have a lot of fun finding out what works best for you.

Nigel Sadler is one of the country’s first accredited Beer Sommeliers.


  • Comment number 1.

    Great, we have a booming real ale market here in the UK, driven by lots of people who want to show the world what a great product we have and what thanks do we get beyond the government taxing us to death, complete disregard from the BBC food writers and program makers! Unless Madonna pops up some where or Saturday shows get a kick back, British real ale is lost as too down market for the BBC. If foreign companies want free advertising for their products, let them pay for the TV licences, come on BBC, show a little more imagination. And YES I do work in the industry and more than aware of the very historical nature of REAL ALE AND LOCAL food styles.

  • Comment number 2.

    Blimey! clickinhistory has come in hard and fast. He/she is spot on though, although ignoring that our hero is extolling foreign wallop in this latest blog. No matter; you've got me speared up clickinhistory. There was a programme a year or two back involving James May and Oz Clarke prowling the country in pursuit of the brown stuff but that's about it so far as I can remember. Enough of this. I'm off to launch an offensive on the poncy winebibbers behind the BBC food programming.

  • Comment number 3.

    Again Nigel, I feel that if I wasnt paying for you to write this I wouldnt care but seen as I am footing the bill for you to tell me "Drinking beer while you eat is great!" I am somewhat annoyed. You do very little more than name a type of beer and then slam as many exotic dishes into a paragraph as you can. You don't seem to metion any combinations that dont go together and "everything from Mexican salsa to battered squid or seafood" is ambiguous to the point where this is just a man writing about his love for a beer with his dinner... I have nothing against that however you dont deserve to be payed for it; any man who has ever ordered a beer in an indian restaurant could have written this.

  • Comment number 4.

    Well I like the idea of talking about beer and what food it might go with. We have some very excellent brews and breweries in this country and don't make enough people aware of the range and quality. I have visited Bruges a couple of times in the last two years and the Belgians can certainly recommend a beer for each course in a meal. I was happy too to find a restaurant in Canterbury, La Trappiste, which also gives tips for what beer to drink with your food.(And no I don't work there or have any connection with them at all) Why can't some of our brewers get onto this? Maybe some of them have; what do I know? I only drink the stuff.

  • Comment number 5.

    I agree with most of these comments (not too sure about ernest though) I have been attending a beer festival in Alloa for the past 11 years and the range of real ale on display is brilliant, and from all over the U.K. I don't think I have ever had a pint with my food and thought this dosn't taste right, beer is meant to be enjoyed, on its on or with ANY type of food, I think the article is a bit pretentious. (hope I spelled that correctly).

  • Comment number 6.

    Are you all sure Nigel gets paid for these blogs? I don't know him but I've written for various blogs and magazines (not for the Beeb I hasten to add) in the past and never been paid a penny. Perhaps you should check before you criticise? (Apologies if I've missed something). Moreover, although I'm a HUGE fan and advocate of British ale, and particularly the stuff local to me in Newcastle, we don't have the variety they have on the Continent, or even in Belgium alone. Wylam Brewery make some great beers, as does Sam Smiths, but I've not heard of anyone making a decent wheat beer around here?

  • Comment number 7.

    Its charming, should help us. but im still quite interested about beer.. !!
    Im Beverage Consultant , I know some tech tics between them.. :)

  • Comment number 8.

    The thing that's fantastic about beer (and food) is its dazzling variety. Great beer doesn’t stop at Dover. Remember that in the Middle Ages, hops were regarded by some as a dangerous foreign development!

  • Comment number 9.

    It is interesting to note the various reactions to these blogs. Firstly I would emphasise that I do not get paid to sit around drinking beer and eat then write a blog. Secondly in a somewhat limited space I have to convey a message and hopefully get people to try some of the various combinations I suggest. Also I would mention there are 133 recognised and judged beer style in the world and in excess of 45,000 brands, how much can you fit into 500 words? Thirdly I am a successful craft brewer/tutor in the UK and wholeheartedly support the beer industry in this country, to a greater degree than most I would add. Finally as a sommelier it is my job to be aware of foreign foods and beers and offer comment on them, this is not a blog about British food and British Ale. Thank you for reading.

  • Comment number 10.

    Personally I love wheat beers with Fish and Chips. A Classic English food that really doesn't go well with wine. That is about as English as you can get on the food front. There are some great english wheat beers - (Titanic I am sure do one) but we should do more wheat beers, particularly for fish and chips.

  • Comment number 11.

    As one of Nigel's fellow Beer Academy accredited beer sommeliers I have to applaud the comments in his latest blog and response above. I too have worked within the industry for many years and something that it seems all to easy to forget is the sheer, wonderful diversity in the range of beer styles that are available today. Real Ale...i don't know that i've ever tasted virtual beer! However, whilst we do indeed produce some amazing cask conditioned beer here in the UK, including cask conditioned lager, without the influence of the foreign 'wallop' beer styles and the passion and brilliance of the UK's brewers...both large and small...the offering would not be nearly as exciting or diverse as it is. Let alone the fact that this means there is pretty much a beer to satisfy all tastes, it is this range of flavours and character that makes the ability to match food with beer such an exciting experience. Cheers to beer!

  • Comment number 12.

    The wonderful thing about beer is its diversity! All beer styles add to the enjoyment of beer - everyone has their own individual preferences - but because of the rich tapestry of choices then there really is a beer for everyone and for every occasion.
    Perhaps a fine british traditional beer is the right beer for friendly socialising in your local, whereas a beautiful crisp pilsner lager is the right beer for sharing with friends while enjoying a meal.
    Lets celebrate the diversity of beer styles and the way in which beer is the natural companion to food - no other drink can match the potential of beer to enhance food on every occasion.
    Beer is Best folks - even if you have your own individual preference!

  • Comment number 13.

    Kudos to you Nigel Sandler, firstly for writing an interesting piece on beer and food, and secondly for making the effort to respond to some, ahem, interesting comments. I'm sure you didn't have to respond, but for me it makes it much more real and personal, and I thank you for your work.

    Unsurprisingly, I have ordered a beer or two in an Indian restaurant (as mentioned above in one of the comments), but I hardly think that makes me an expert...

    I do however have the savvy to substitute several local/UK ales in places where Nigel has suggested Czech or Indian ones, should I see fit or allowing for availability. I am allowed to do that aren't I? Or will the UK real-ale nazis be knocking on my door soon?

    Thanks again Nigel.

    Pete, Edinburgh.

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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