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How to pair food and beer - part three

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Nigel Sadler | 15:48 UK time, Tuesday, 20 March 2012

In my third blog on the joys of beer and food, it’s now the turn of the darker beers to show their strength and character. We’ll also move closer to home, taking a look at stouts, porters and milds − all good traditional British beer styles.

It might go without saying, but as beers get darker in colour they will exhibit greater flavours from the coloured malts used in their production. These can range from lightly toasted, through toffee/caramel to dark chocolate or even coffee. Bitterness levels range from low, as found in milds, to the relatively high levels in stouts, though overall hop aroma and flavour is low. This rich diversity of flavour and aroma makes beer a fitting counterpart for red wine and a very worthy partner to a whole host of delicious foods, and not just meat dishes either!

Game works particularly well with the chocolaty notes in oatmeal beer.

Porters started to gain popularity in the early 1700s. Dark brown in colour, sometimes black in the more robust versions, their richness, medium body and lower levels of bitterness give them a huge versatility when it comes to pairing them with food. Any grilled or barbecued food (be it burgers, steaks, chicken, vegetable kebabs or even seafood) will certainly be at home with a porter where the roast notes in the beer pair nicely with any charred and caramelised flavours produced when cooking. Try it with any dish featuring game, particularly if chocolate is used in the dish itself or as part of a sauce.

Stouts vary greatly: gentle, slightly sweet milk stouts, those made with oatmeal, strong rich imperial versions and of course the drier Irish types. Historically they followed on from porters in development and over the years became darker with a more pronounced roast character. Often served chilled they can be enjoyably refreshing in warm weather.

The classic combination of oysters and Irish stout really does work fantastically well, with the slight salty sweetness of the shellfish being nicely offset by the dry, roasted and bitter notes in the beer. Don’t just stick to oysters though; it also complements mussels and crab beautifully.

Oatmeal versions are less dry, often displaying a sweetish, slightly nutty flavour and smoothness in texture. These added characteristics produce some of the benefits of both the porter and Irish styles, which work particularly well with grilled or roast lamb and venison. Here, once again, the chocolaty sweet element in the beer finding comparable notes in the charred meats. Also try them with my favourite: good old shepherd’s pie!        

Milds have changed greatly since the 1800s. Generally thought of as a low-hopped, low-alcohol working man’s drink there are some fine examples available and at least one bottled version is usually to be found on the shelf in the pub. Their low bitterness, greater caramel, even liquorice, character means they’re a great companion to coarse pork pâtés, mushroom risotto and cheeses such as Cheshire or Wensleydale. Look for stronger versions, over 4.5% ABV, which are fantastic with liver and bacon or humble pork chops.

What are your favourite pairings of ale and food? Or do you know a recipe that combines the two perfectly?

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