How to pair food and beer - part one
Food and beer matching is relatively new to many people. Real ale sales are increasing in pubs against big commercial lagers, showing an appetite for more complex flavours, but restaurants are still less likely to stock or to recommend beers to accompany their food. As a Beer Sommelier, it’s one of my jobs to promote beer as a complement to food. You’ll be amazed at how often a beer works better than a wine with certain dishes.
But where to start? Over a few posts, I want to guide you through some of the basics, introduce you to a few beer styles and the foods to pair with them. And if you really get the bug then there are many courses for both complete novice and the aspiring Beer Sommelier and everyone in-between.
Often regarded as the poor relation to wine, beer is actually a very complex drink involving up to 12 ingredients. The principle components are: malts (that’s the sweet, part-germinated barley grains) which give both colour and flavour; wonderfully aromatic hops, the herbs and spices if you like; and finally, yeast and water, which also contribute to the flavour. All of these add differing depths and dimensions to the flavour of beer. There are now over 130 recognised beer styles today- plenty of room to create some interesting flavour pairings.
Now we need to understand what we’re looking for in any food/drink pairing. The drink must enhance the food and vice versa.
How does that work exactly? Well you’re looking to complement, contrast or cut the various food flavours. These three “Cs” are what we will be looking to follow. Complementing uses a similar flavour or characteristic. Chinese stir-fries may be enhanced by ale with ginger or coriander flavours, while the chewy, dark crust of a pizza can be complemented by toasty, malty Pilsner style lager.
Contrasting places the food and beer on opposite sides of the palate – and there are food combinations that translate directly into beer. Seek out a good quality dark chocolate and enjoy with a glass of Belgian cherry kriek beer. The combination of flavours here is almost overwhelming: a nice take on the Black Forest gateau.
Finally cutting, principally down to carbonation levels, lifts and slices through rich dishes, in the way a Belgian golden ale can partner a creamy curry or a German Weissbier can cut through quiche or smoked fish.
The choice can seem overwhelming, but while you’re just getting started, treat blonde/golden beers and lagers as you would white wines and the darker, stronger bitters and porters as reds. Err on the lighter side for delicately flavoured dishes, and save the full-bodied beers for food that can handle the challenge.
In taking beer more seriously as part of a dining experience, one aspect that’s often overlooked is the use of different glassware. Think of the theatre and sense of occasion when we see the fantastic array of glasses used for serving Belgian beers. So next time why not use a stemmed wine glass for your beer and see for yourself how something so simple changes the perception of beer served with a meal.
Above all, have fun experimenting; there are no hard and fast rules!
Nigel Sadler is one of the country’s first Beer Academy Accredited Beer Sommeliers.
Listen to the You and Yours feature on Beer Sommeliers.